Study stimulates discussion of ethics in organizations
Comparing codes of ethics and compliance and providing reflections to promote discussion in this field were the objectives of researcher Renato Janine Ribeiro in his article “Pela Expansão da Discussão Ética” (“On the Expansion of Ethical Discussion”), published in business journal GV-Executive at Fundação Getulio Vargas’ Sao Paulo School of Business Administration (FGV EAESP).
The researcher talks about the positive and negative effects of the increased importance of ethics in society in recent years. On the positive side, he highlights greater concern for ethical values in public, private, social and individual actions. The main negative impact is the term’s use as marketing jargon to justify unethical measures.
For example, companies have adopted ethical policies, such as recalls of defective products or efforts to implement inclusive policies in terms of gender and ethnicity. However, in some cases they may be used in an attempt to boost profits. A similar thing is seen in Brazil when election candidates claim to fight corruption but are often later denounced or even condemned for being corrupt.
The study also reflects on the evolution of ethics throughout history. Ribeiro notes that in recent times, there has been a significant change as organizations, professional associations and state bodies have created codes of ethics. These codes aim to improve relationships in the organization, as well as relations with society and even the environment.
The author also points out that codes of ethics and compliance operate in a field that we could call quasi-legal. That is, although they are not part of state legislation, they also use essential characteristics of legality, such as precise descriptions of what is prohibited or required. The ethical concern that led to the aforementioned codes has also had repercussions for laws. Unethical acts have begun to be punished under pressure from public opinion. However, the objectives of law and ethics are different. The law seeks to regulate the functioning of society. Ethics, on the other hand, aims to create a better environment for human relations, so that they are not just functional (as intended by law), but fair and good. In both cases, it is hoped that trust between people will be fostered, but the law generates this through control and even fear, while ethics builds it through esteem and hope.
Compliance is closely related to codes of ethics. Codes of ethics and compliance rules are both concerned with ethics. Today’s laws manifest more of an ethical sense than those of the past, but this big difference remains. In order to punish by law, by code or by compliance, it is necessary to be very clear on the type of action (or omission) that is wrong and reprehensible.
Ribeiro suggests that a good way to promote ethics in business and in other collective work environments is to question how these values are actually practiced. He emphasizes that freedom is not the same as privilege and everyone has the right to be themselves as long as they don’t interfere with the freedom of others. He challenges the idea that freedom is a zero-sum game, noting that it can expand.
“I pose these questions because they expand ethical discussion, which cannot be confined to the field of prohibited or mandatory practices but needs to work on the meanings of our actions and feelings,” he writes.
Finally, the researcher explains the space occupied by companies and the power of reflection among them. “Organizations are one of the most important places for ethical reflection, if only for the simple reason that we spend most of our waking time in them, on weekdays. Our social life largely takes place at work, so we should and must use our time at work to build the qualities of a better world,” Ribeiro argues.
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