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Guendalina Dondé: Ethics ambassadors can transform an organization

A fifth of employees in the UK said they were aware of conduct they thought violated the law or their organization’s ethical standards, but only about half of them reported it to a manager, according to the Institute of Business Ethics’s 2015 Ethics at Work Survey.

In Continental Europe, 33 percent were aware of misconduct, but 54 percent did not report it.

The challenge to companies is to embed ethical principles in order to encourage an anti-corruption mindset throughout the organization. Establishing an ethics ambassadors network distributed across the organization — geographically, departmentally and hierarchically — can help ensure anti-corruption is part of “the way business is done around here.”

Ethics ambassadors are employees selected to assist senior management in promoting and embedding ethical values and related policies. The post of ethics ambassador may be full-time or may be taken on in addition to an employee’s day-to-day job. They are usually not part of the ethics function, but they are positioned throughout the company; across business units, geographical locations and/or the hierarchy of an organisation, and form an informal ‘network’ of diverse employees with similar responsibilities.

Ethics ambassadors can help ensure that anti-corruption policies have both a relevancy and consistency throughout a multinational organisation. They may deliver training at a local level, record and report issues, and occasionally help conduct investigations into unethical behavior. They can also assist in embedding and promoting ethical values, and by extension, anti-corruption policies in companies. 

Because they are based throughout the company, they can provide local knowledge of challenges to anti-corruption – for example, hot spots, notorious officials and cultural norms. They can  encourage buy-in from employees by provide the appropriate language and case studies to help make the anti-corruption initiatives within the ethics programme relevant to the needs of the local operating environment. Context can be important and taking this into consideration is best done by someone familiar with the local culture and history.

Ethics ambassadors can also act as an informal place to seek advice on ethical issues. If employees find themselves in the situation where they are being offered a bribe, or a bribe is being requested, they can talk to a local ethics ambassador rather than a telephone helpline or a more formal contact within head office, which may deter some employees from seeking advice.

IBE’s 2016 UK and Europe survey indicates that companies with ethics ambassador networks operate a more comprehensive ethics program than those without.

Here’s what we found:

 

Companies WITH ethics ambassadors

Companies WITHOUT ethics ambassadors

A global code of ethics (or equivalent document)

100%

100%

A speak up (whistleblowing) line

96%

94%

Internal reporting on ethics performance

96%

67%

External reporting on ethics performance

87%

72%

Employee training on ethics

96%

89%

An ethics monitoring program

87%

72%

A board level ethics committee

83%

44%

A management level ethics committee

65%

44%

External stakeholder engagement

78%

61%

 

In both groups, the code of ethics has become an essential element of a company’s ethics programme and all respondents report that their organization provides this sort of guidance to their staff. However, companies with a network of ethics ambassadors appear to adopt a more advanced approach to embedding an ethical culture.

In particular, companies with ethics ambassadors seem to place more importance on reporting on their ethical performance — especially internally. Ethics training is also more common in this group.

Although ethics ambassadors can be found in very diverse organizations, the IBE survey highlights some features that such companies have in common.

Ethics ambassadors tend to be more common:

  • among organizations with a large number of staff, as they bring local knowledge to the design and functioning of the programme as well as achieve greater consistency in its implementation
  • in companies with a more mature ethics program, where strengthening the ethical culture of the organization is a priority
  • where senior leaders seem to be more engaged with ethical standards and the board more involved in conversations on sustaining the organisation’s values and ethical culture, and
  • in companies that aim at engaging with all employees more closely and raise awareness on each of the main building blocks of the ethics program.

Creating a culture of openness, where ethical dilemmas are disclosed and discussed will go some way to combat bribery and corruption. By ensuring that ethics is championed by local, accessible staff members, an ethics ambassador network can help create that culture. 

____

Guendalina Dondé, pictured above, is a Senior Researcher at the Institute of Business Ethics in London.

Further data can be found in the IBE’s latest Business Ethics Briefing.  The IBE Good Practice Guide Ethics Ambassadors provides a detailed description of what ethics ambassadors are and how they can be used effectively in promoting an ethical culture, giving guidance on creating and motivating a network of ethics ambassadors. It also includes a set of practical tools for training and evaluating their efficacy.

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1 Comment

  1. Thanks for sharing your insights. Can I obtain access to the survey rating companies WITH and WITHOUT ethics ambassadors? I'd like to see what industries these companies are in and their size.

    Cheers
    Wendy


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