Where is the best place for the ethics office?

 

In our website poll we recently asked the question “Where is the best place for the ethics office?” 

The largest portion of respondents (36%) believed that governance was the best home for the ethics function, followed by compliance (21%) and internal audit (13%).

In our website poll we recently asked the question “Where is the best place for the ethics office?” 

The largest portion of respondents (36%) believed that governance was the best home for the ethics function, followed by compliance (21%) and internal audit (13%).

 

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The results are interesting, especially when read with Prof. Mias de Klerk’s article in our March newsletter which asks “Should ethics and compliance be combined or separated?”

The results show that the question asked by Prof. de Klerk is a topical one that does indeed confront South African organisations.  Fortunately, the participants in our poll see ethics as being more a governance matter than a compliance matter.  

Where we place the ethics office says something about how we view its role. If it were placed in HR it would seem that ethics management is about controlling employee behaviour. Placed with the forensic function it is probably meant to address theft, fraud and corruption.

Marrying ethics and compliance communicates ethics as something that we do to avoid fines and regulatory intervention.  In other words, we do it because it is externally imposed. 

Organisations don’t all have an ethics office for the same reason, but ideally organisations’ ethics should be internally driven by leadership.  King III rightly requires boards to “provide effective leadership based on an ethical foundation”. It is leadership that sets the values that must guide the organisation.  The ethics office will then be tasked with the institutionalisation of these values on behalf of leadership. 

With leadership support it is of course possible to drive effective ethics programmes from any organisational component, albeit with different tones. The debate about where to place the ethics office is perhaps most important to the fledgling ethics officer profession. It says something about how ethics officers see their unique contribution to organisations, but it also sets the tone for how organisational leaders and other employees will see this function going forward.