A code of ethics sets out the expectations that the company has for how employees should behave in any given situation, to assist with decision-making.

So for example, if an employee is offered an expensive gift or hospitality in return for a contract, they will be able to refer to the code of ethics to see whether or not that would be in line with how the company wishes to behave.

As well as providing guidance to staff, codes can reassure customers, investors, suppliers, partners and even competitors about the expected integrity of how business is conducted. 

A code of business ethics reflects how the organisation operates its business model – how it relates to the communities in which it does business and how to express the corporate values it considers important.

However, one size never fits all. Each organisation must define its own standards of what it considers to be acceptable ways of conducting its affairs.

How have codes of ethics evolved?

In the past, codes of ethics were a rarity; if they existed they weren’t well publicised. In this video Simon Webley, discusses how codes of ethics have changed.

What are stakeholders?

Stakeholders are those with whom the organisation has a relationship, and who are impacted by its actions.

Broadly these are:

  • Employees
  • Owners or providers of capital (shareholders/investors)
  • Suppliers and business partners
  • Customers
  • Local or national community (civil society, environment, regulators, non-governmental organisations, media policy makers)

Organisations do not exist in isolation; they depend on society for their franchise, so they need to maintain relationships of trust with a range of stakeholders.

 

What is the difference between a code of conduct and a code of ethics?

A code of ethics sets out the standards which an organisation expects in line with its core ethical values.

It could be called "The Way We Work Around Here”, or "The [Company] Way”, but it will set out the organisation's obligations and responsibilities to its staff and other stakeholders.

A code of conduct usually has a different purpose and is different in tone. It sets out the obligations of staff  to the organisations, and details rules and regulations.

 

Essential resources

Stakeholder Engagement: values, business culture and society
Stakeholder Engagement: values, business culture and society

In order to foster trust, external engagement should always be driven by ethical values. A considered approach to engagement, with a range of external stakeholders is a core task for boards and management. 

Codes of Business Ethics: examples of good practice
Codes of Business Ethics: examples of good practice

This companion publication to Codes of Business Ethics: a guide to developing and implementing an effective code draws on the wording of a number of current corporate codes which address the most common concerns encountered in doing business today.

Codes of Business Ethics: a guide to developing and implementing an effective code
Codes of Business Ethics: a guide to developing and implementing an effective code

This Core IBE Report addresses many of the questions that arise when organisations wish to provide support and guide staff in ethical decision-making. It is intended to apply to organisations of any size, regardless of the sector in which they operate and will assist those charged with implementing or updating their organisation’s code of ethics.