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As we release our revised code of ethics, what does it mean for you? By Robin Vaughan, executive director, governance and professional standards.
Upholding an ethical code can most simply be understood as ’doing the right thing when no one is looking.’ Are you sure you know your right from wrong in the workplace? After all corporate fraud profiling shows culprits are most likely to be senior male executives in the finance function.
The CIMA code is a tool to help guide ethical practice and is revised periodically at international level to reflect changes in the external environment and reinforce the ideal of professional duty.
CIMA, and its members, derive their professional standing from the Royal charter, which dates back to the 13th century. A chartered body works in the public interest, demonstrates ’pre-eminence, stability and permanence’ in its particular field and is made up of members of a unique profession; the term originally sought to differentiate professionals from 'quacks' and 'charlatans'. By the 20th century, codes and standards had become the dominant form of articulating professional ethics among the established professions, which continue to flourish.
In the accountancy field Luca Pacioli, the ‘father’ of accounting, first made reference to ethics – applying moral values and judgements to the subject – as far back as 1494. However, accounting bodies, which were first formed in the 19th century, didn’t formally apply ethical codes until the last century.
Since then standards have been developed through a range of professional bodies, government groups, regulators and leading companies. At CIMA we have adopted an adapted version of the IFAC code, which has global relevance and recognition.
So how is it applied in practice?Management accountants that possess chartered status have a position in society as trusted experts. They have a duty to maintain the highest standards of professionalism in their work, while acting in the public interest, by upholding the code and the fundamental principles: integrity; objectivity; professional competence and due care; confidentiality and professional behaviour. By not doing so, and by breaching the code and any related regulation or legislation, members can lose their professional standing.
With recent turbulence in the economy and financial markets, the failures of many companies can be traced to ethical breaches. It is no surprise that business ethics are very high in the minds of the public, regulators and governments, and that trust in professionals is at a low point.
Although most major firms adopted a code of ethics in the last decade, their challenge today is ensuring that such codes are embedded in business culture and led from the top, and not just window dressing. As professional accountants you have a role to play in supporting this. Bad ethical practice not only affects individuals, but also companies, society and the wider economy.
As long as people work, ethical dilemmas in the workplace will always be with us, and the CIMA code offers guidance and signposting for best practice. Ethical grey areas and demands from misguided, or outright corrupt, peers and bosses remain a challenge to deal with. The revised CIMA code and supporting material can help in establishing a course of action, so that our students and members can do the right thing.
LinksCIMA code of ethics
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