KPMG BEN-Africa Ethics Forum Discussion: “Burning Issues” Summary

Introduction

On 8 October 2015 KPMG and BEN-Africa hosted the 2nd “Ethics Forum”. Ethics management practitioners, academics and other interested parties were invited to discuss the priorities and challenges of organisational ethics management. The theme for this forum was “Making an Ethics Office Effective and Relevant”. One session of the forum was devoted to small group discussions on the “burning issues” in ethics management. Four questions were discussed, and the answers of delegates are summarised below.

Burning Issues Discussion

Question 1: What are the most pressing ethics challenges organisations face today?

Concerns with “ethics” as field of study, practice or theory

  • Why does ethics have to be complicated?
  • Ethics is becoming a separate science.
  • Ethics is not perceived as real theory.

Cost / Value of Ethics Management

  • Ethics perceived as being expensive (outsourced);
  • Profits vs Ethics Balance; and
  • Measuring the ROI for ethics is difficult and unclear.

Lack of commitment to ethics

  • Lower standards are acceptable due to economic climate.
  • Not a priority for executive management of companies.
  • Companies are not committing resources to ethics, it is becoming a management function.

Lack of resources / support

  • No support from Judiciary system – Prosecution takes too long.
  • What power is to be given to the ethics function to make decisions?

Embedding ethics into the culture / operations / strategy of the organisation

  • Understanding an organisation and what it deems “the right thing to do”.
  • Ethical conduct needs to be incorporated into performance management.
  • Embedding an ethical culture and maintaining it going forward.
  • Understanding the scope of an ethics office and programme – Obtaining support from management.
  • Adding an incentive into company structures to ensure ethics is taken into account.
  • Aligning personal ethics to corporate ethics, cultural dynamics and aligning core values to those.
  • Pre-employment assessment – should they be incorporated?

Ethics across locations (ethical diversity?)

  • Location
    • Consistency across different locations for transnational corporations; and
    • Disparity in different geographies, e.g. ethics in Nigeria vs South Africa.
  • Combining different cultural views, i.e. Chinese business practices in Africa
  • Integrated social contract theory – moral diversity

Different standards or levels within an organisation

  • Different Levels
    • Differing reward systems for labourer and manager;
    • Double standards for employees and senior leadership; and
    • Different standards for management and blue collar workers – management resigns when issues are identified, whereas blue collar workers are made examples of.

Miscellaneous

  • Protecting company reputations when ethical issues arise.
  • Minimum wage vs living wage dilemma
  • Conflict
    • Doing what is right for the client vs doing what is right for the stakeholder; and
    • Consequences for unethical behaviour not standardised across the board.
  • Uninformed decision making
  • Compliance vs Competitive advantage

Question 2: What are the most important priorities for ethics practitioners? (“What do ethics practitioners need to do?”)

  • Demonstrate ethics, e.g. “Thuli Madonsela”
  • Provide evidence for decisions made.
  • Dealing with management
    • Understand Board / Stakeholder assessment of ethical risk – Engage with Business;
    • Ensure and maintain top leadership buy in; and
    • Leadership commitment.
  • Find the right person to Champion your ethics programmes.
  • Culture
    • Cultural transformation and the maintenance thereof; and
    • Embedding the culture (Environment).
  • Training on ethics and code of conduct for employer and employee.
  • Gaining people’s trust.
  • Fear of career limitation due to involvement of ethics practitioners.
  • Objectivity and independence
  • Courage
  • Discretion
  • Commitment to the cause
  • Evidencing value
  • Create proper governance frameworks
  • Establish an ethics appetite
  • Rights and protection given to ethics practitioners

Question 3: What are the themes, questions or topics ethics practitioners need help with? (“What would ethics practitioners like to know?”)

  • Knowledge of ethics culture (Current vs “to be”).
  • Managing resistance from organisations.
  • How to influence senior management to embrace ethics (tone at the top).
  • How to convince leadership to take on ethics and not only pay lip service?
  • What is best practice, and who sets best practice?
  • Practical implementation of the Social and Ethics Committee, and the practitioner’s role.
  • Workshop on the legislation applicable to ethics.
  • What are the trends?
  • Measurement criteria for efficacy of functions.
  • How to get ethics invited to the decision making table.
  • Solution to the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” dilemma.
  • Implementation of incentives for whistleblowing.

Question 4: What are the themes, questions or topics that fall outside the scope of ethics practitioners, but requires attention nonetheless? (“What are ethics practitioners neglecting?”)

  • Board room presence
  • Integrated into decision making
  • Fine line between legal and ethics, should there be an integrated approach?
  • Opportunities to add economic value (Ethosphere)?
  • Perception of ethical behaviour drives consumer support.
  • Putting sustainability at risk, i.e. balancing dignified existence of employees against affordability to company.