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Are Ethics and Integrity Teachable?

Are Ethics and Integrity Teachable?

  • Patricia Marques • EY Risk Manager

Ethics is a set of standards and values of an individual or group, which serves as a guide for human behaviour in relation to what are right or wrong attitudes. Thus, ethics is very important for the construction of a better society, contributing to the maintenance of relationships of trust and mutual respect.

Integrity implies acting in accordance with ethical values and principles. It can be defined as the quality of being honest and just and stands out as being a personal choice.

While ethics can be imposed on a person, integrity cannot. The latter has to come from within!

Ethics being a set of individual or group standards and values, every day, in the usual traffic of Maputo, I ask myself about these individual standards that become collective!

Let’s see, the traffic light is red but the cars intentionally continue their march. Regardless of their social class or level of education, most drivers follow the behaviour of the driver in front of them, even if it is wrong, and deliberately “abandon” their individual values and follow a collective pattern of wrong attitudes… Meanwhile, the driver who respects the traffic rules is almost embarrassed to take the right attitude!

But this same driver who breaks the rules, when travelling to another country, adopts a different behaviour! Because the others “out there” don’t do it, he won’t do it either…

And I ask myself… Have we lost the capacity to maintain our individual values, regardless of the collective action? At what point have we lost our integrity?

And if this “abandonment” of values happens in a routine and banal way with simple actions, how do organisations guarantee the compliance and compatibility of their people, to their corporate values?

Can ethics and integrity be taught?

Most organisations have a code of conduct, to which leaders and employees must conform so that there is no incompatibility of values. By the way, ethics and morals are on the rise in organizations, as they are associated with contemporary issues of great relevance, such as social responsibility, corporate governance and compliance.

According to the EY Global Integrity Report 2022 (ey-global-integrity-report-2022.pdf ) these are the five actions to accelerate the corporate integrity agenda and thus improve the Compliance levels of organisations:

  1. Really know your business:

Fraud and corruption risk assessments are at the heart of the journey to protect your organisation. Moreover, these assessments need to be taken seriously, robustly, regularly and exposing any gaps or weaknesses.

  1. Bring human beings into compliance:

Recognise that systems and processes don’t commit fraud – humans do. The best compliance frameworks can be breached if there is no culture of doing the right thing, which makes creating a strong integrity culture as important as the control environment.

  1. Be empowered by the power of your own data

Treat the growing volume of data as an opportunity to help you fight fraud, not a threat. Use your own data to detect irregular behaviour and guide your response to prevent and investigate it. Look for ways to collect data that supports your ESG journey and aligns with your integrity agenda.

Practical ways to help protect data with integrity (ey-integrity-report-en-2021.pdf)

See Also

  • Promote a data integrity culture that encompasses the organisation and its supply chain, strengthened with regular communications and training;
  • Update training to take account of new working environments and regulations and distribute it to employees of all functions, positions and seniority levels;
  • Use advanced technology as part of an effective compliance programme to monitor business activities and flag areas of potential risk – for example, as part of a cyber breach response plan to detect and quantify data that may have been lost;
  • Conduct a risk assessment when introducing new advanced technologies that incorporate ethical scenarios where data integrity may be compromised.
  1. Educate, not train

As the report highlighted, the integrity message is slowly coming through and yet the appetite for negligence is growing. Continue the journey of communication and awareness by going through training so that everyone understands the ‘why’ and the ‘what’ of business integrity.

  1. Speak up and support whistleblowing

Some of the considerations that organizations need to have in the implementation of a whistleblowing channel are: (ey-integrity-report-en-2021.pdf)

  • Give people the opportunity to report suspected wrongdoing, in good faith and make them feel safe by establishing that there is protection from retaliation. And implement anonymous and confidential whistleblowing channels;
  • Reflection and definition of the channel’s Governance;
  • Empower an internal channel support team with advanced training;
  • Ensure anonymity, confidentiality and the possibility of two-way communication between the person making the report and the channel’s management team;
  • Consider different geographies, cultures and languages if there is operation in other countries;
  • Consider partnering with external channel management teams to ensure independence, expertise and speed up the screening process;
  • Work on communication to disseminate messages that cognitively activate all people to feel that they are active agents of change in their organisation.

Developing an integrity agenda doesn’t just protect companies by avoiding fines and penalties. It can also help them prosper financially and deliver long-term value to their shareholders. Business integrity enables successful organisations to remain true to their missions, keep their promises, comply with laws and ethical standards, promote public trust and increase resilience in times of crisis.

This in turn allows them to accumulate capital, both financial and reputational.It is essential that organisations put integrity at the heart of their operations. And integrity is more than written policies, it is something we must all have in our “being”, as I said initially, from the board of directors to the most junior employees, business partners and third parties.

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