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Institute of Ethics

Ethics and Compliance Officers

Designing and maintaining an effective ethics programme is the core responsibility of Ethics and Compliance Officers. The key elements of such a programme include, according to the United States Sentencing Commission “Organisational Guidelines (first enacted by the U.S. Congress in November 1991, and revised periodically) seven key criteria to ‘reasonably’ reducing the occurrence of unethical or illegal behaviour:

  • Oversight by high-level personnel;
  • Due care in delegating substantial discretionary authority;
  • Effective communication with all levels of employees;
  • Reasonable steps to achieve compliance, which include systems for monitoring, auditing, and reporting suspected wrongdoing without fear of reprisal;
  • Consistent enforcement of compliance standards including disciplinary mechanisms;
  • Reasonable steps to respond to and prevent further similar offenses upon detection of a violation.

Despite the potential benefits that organisations can achieve by adopting an ethics programme informed by these guidelines, there are also potential limitations to bear in mind. First of all, a strong emphasis on compliance can generate a “follow-the-law” mentality in managers and employees that discourages decision-making going ‘beyond the law’ (Izraeli & Schwartz, Journal of Business Ethics, 1998). Moreover, compliance-oriented ethics programmes do not promote “moral imagination”, a necessary ingredient in responsible moral judgment that can enable in particular circumstances, the discovery and evaluation of possibilities, not merely determined by that circumstance, or limited by its operative mental models, or merely framed by a set of rules or rule-governed concerns. Therefore, moral imagination is an essential element to enhance the effectiveness of any corporate ethics programme (de Colle & Werhane, Journal of Business Ethics, 2008). To support a more proactive approach to corporate ethics, a values-based ethics programme may generate more beneficial results.
In the light of their international experience working with managers of companies in various industries, the Institute of Ethics scholars can assist in strengthening the values-based dimension of a company’s ethics programme. They can support Ethics & Compliance Officers to analyse the practical challenges they face in managing their particular ethics programme.

For more information please contact us: ethics@dcu.ie