Why a Code of Ethics Is Important
Many companies realize the importance of code of ethics development and work to create codes of ethics accordingly. The purpose of code of ethics development and subsequent ethics training is to first define a company’s ethical stances on topics like material sourcing, conflict resolution and legal compliance, and then to ensure that every member of the company understands the ethics code.
The benefits of having a code of ethics include protecting employees’ rights, avoiding legal challenges and developing a positive public image of the company.
A primary purpose of code of ethics training is to ensure that managers understand employees’ legal rights and that employees know how to advocate for themselves in situations like:
- Pay disputes
- Sexual harassment
- Disparate treatment
- Resolving conflicts
- Pursuing promotions
Following an ethical code regarding employee treatment can protect employees from being exploited and mistreated in other ways. Educating employees about their rights and how to advocate for themselves is another one of the benefits of having a code of ethics, as empowering employees to be their own advocates will serve them throughout the rest of their careers.
For a supervisor or company leader, the day-to-day decisions that come with managing people and operating a business are not always easy. One purpose of code of ethics development is making these decisions easier by creating guidelines leaders can follow when making these decisions.
For example, a clothing company might be faced with the ethical dilemma of whether to end its relationship with a manufacturer found to be using child labor and engaging in exploitative business practices. Although changing manufacturers would increase the company’s costs and eat into its profits, the right choice is clear when it is written into a company’s code of ethics.
Similarly, having a well-developed code of ethics can make it easier for company leaders to develop an effective code of conduct for employees. A code of conduct is not the same as a code of ethics. While a code of ethics states the company’s broad positions, a code of conduct is an explicit set of instructions that team members are expected to follow while employed by the company. Generally, the code of conduct is written using the positions outlined in the code of ethics, and its instructions are developed to enable employees to easily follow the company’s code of ethics.
Another one of the most important benefits of having a code of ethics is creating a positive public image. Consumers pay close attention to companies’ actions, particularly those involving ethical decisions. Typically, consumers like supporting companies they perceive to be ethical and will pay more to buy products and services from these companies.
The importance of code of ethics development is immediately apparent when other companies in the same industry face lawsuits for ethical and legal violations. By developing a strong code of ethics and prioritizing its tenets in every business decision, a company’s leaders can potentially save the company millions of dollars in the legal fees and fines that can accompany an allegation of wrongdoing.
Preventing lawsuits is closely tied with another purpose of code of ethics creation: maintaining a positive relationship with the public. News of ethical violations reaches social media and other public outlets quickly, and even a seemingly minor infraction can have a devastating effect on the public’s perception of a brand. By committing itself to the importance of its code of ethics in every action it takes, a company can insulate itself against all the consequences of negative publicity.