A code of ethics helps to clarify a profession’s values, provides a point of reference for decision making and can be used as a framework for discipline. Most codes of ethics are principle-based, providing guiding principles on which professional judgement and decisions should be based, rather than prescribing a rigid system of rules, says Madi Malemu (MCIPS), a lecturer at Commerce Edge in this month’s SmartProcurement.
Professional ethics are the personal and corporate standards of behaviour expected of the members of a particular profession. Many professions that are trusted by the public to apply expert knowledge such as doctors, engineers, accountants, procurement practitioners and others have a code of ethics that sets out the expectations of a member’s behaviour and the boundaries within which a member should operate.
Importantly, behaviour can be unethical without being illegal and professional ethics covers a wider area than the law.
Bribery, corruption or even tax evasion are illegal and something that most people would not condone. An attitude of mind and professional ethics are not just about complying with the dictates of the law, they are about applying the spirit of principles, rules and guidelines – cultivating the right attitude of mind.
Ethical issues are not always clear-cut. Claiming expenses against costs that have not been incurred or were incurred for personal use rather than business use might be considered unethical by most – the UK MP’s expense scandal springs to mind – but what about the occasional take home from the office? A useful test is to consider what a reasonable person who is well-informed, well-intentioned and unbiased would do in a similar situation, says Malemu.
Many issues of professional ethics stem from a conflict of interest and, in particular, the conflict between professional duties and personal interests. In order to act ethically, a professional expert must be sure that she is protecting the interests of others rather than herself. In situations of possible conflict, procurement professionals need to balance the commercial pressures of the business environment with the need to treat people fairly and act with integrity.
The tendency of procuring goods by open tender and providing the tender documents only to selected suppliers is unethical. The unequal dissemination of information means that some suppliers, especially SMEs, are automatically put at a disadvantage.
Professional ethics helps individuals faced with ethical dilemmas make the correct decisions, by setting out a framework that informs members about the issues to consider and the steps to take in resolving difficult situations.
There tend to be common themes, for example, the CIPS Code of Ethics sets out some fundamental principles that members must apply: integrity, objectivity, professional competence and due care, confidentiality and professional behaviour. The CIPS code of ethics is available on the CIPS website www.cips.org
To conclude, a main identifier of members of a profession is a commitment to the highest standards of professional practice, reflected in the high level of ethical standards expected of its members.