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A quick guide to business ethics

By Bryony Clear Hill, Associate Manager — Ethics Awareness, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants

October is all about ethics! From our latest thought leadership paper on the ethics of new technology, to FM magazine articles and new tools on the website, we’ll bring you lots of new resources to keep you up to date on the issues.

Going back to basics, what do we mean by business ethics? Is it the same as corporate social responsibility (CSR)? And what does it have to do with CIMA? This quick guide will get you up to speed.

Defining business ethics

Put simply, ethics is about what is right and what is wrong.

What about business ethics though?

Business ethics is about the behavior of individual employees, as well as the way in which the company conducts its business. The Institute of Business Ethics (IBE) defines business ethics as ‘the application of ethical values to business behaviour’.  

Is ethics the same as compliance? Not quite. Compliance is often about doing things because you have to — because laws and regulations tell you must do something. Ethics is about doing something because it is the moral thing to do. 

An ethical business is one which has a culture of integrity. Employees know what is expected of them and they feel supported to speak up when they see something which feels wrong. Every employee knows the company’s values and lives them every day. The organisation’s leadership takes ethics seriously, and make sure they are role models for ethical behaviour. [Great!]

Ethics and CSR

Is business ethics the same as corporate social responsibility? 

Some companies might group them together, managed by one person or department. The IBE argues though that there is a difference ‘between doing things ethically and doing ethical things’. 

For example, a company has been working to develop alternatives to plastic in the packaging for their products. But they also have a culture of ignoring concerns which are raised by employees about favouritism by managers. This company may appear from the outside to be doing ethical things, but the internal culture is not an ethical one.    

Ethics and CIMA

Having access to practical guidance when you’re not sure of the best course of action is critical for management accountants—and CIMA is here to support you.

Our Code of Ethics is based on five fundamental principles that should guide everything you do: integrity, objectivity, professional competence and due care, confidentiality, and professional behaviour.  Our recently updated Ethics pages are full of resources designed to bring the Code to life and help you navigate your way through an ethical dilemma. There are also resources which can help you prepare for the ethics elements of your CIMA exams.  

October is Ethics Month

As this month we celebrate all things ethics keep an eye out for future blog posts in which we’ll be exploring the top questions you should ask yourself when you face an ethical dilemma. Additionally, we have a brand new thought leadership paper on ethics in the digital age, and throughout the month we’ll be bringing you more content.

Our Facebook Messenger chatbot will be serving up advice, quizzes, and more to help you learn. Subscribers will get a daily alert inviting them to explore topics from ethical dilemmas to the Ethics of AI. Sign up now.