What is an Ethics Program?
Ethics is a system of moral values or a set of principles for doing right that have been adopted by a person or a profession or the study of such systems. In the world of business, an ethics program can refer to a degree program, probably in philosophy, that a candidate for an undergraduate degree might have completed either prior to entering business school or applying for a job or, alternatively, a concentration that a Master of Business Administration (MBA) candidate might choose or a required course or set of courses in such a program. Ethics program could also refer to a company’s or government department’s institutionalized approach to ethics, with such programs often being referred to explicitly as “The Ethics Program.”
In an MBA ethics program, some course titles are likely to reflect the ethics focus explicitly with courses that focus on the relationship of ethics to corporate responsibility, and how business ethics operate in an international business environment. Other courses — for example, ones that consider corruption, the social impact of business decisions, human rights, or globalization — will necessarily include ethics, but its application to the subject will be revealed through the course material. Since “ethics program” is an English term, it is difficult to know how widespread the ethics education of this type might be elsewhere, there are ethics programs available internationally for young people thinking of pursuing careers in business.
In business, an ethics program can refer to a process and a set of guidelines for living up to the company values of how to do business. Such a program is likely to offer employees an explanation of the values the company holds and steps to take if an employee has a question about whether they’re being met or how to meet them in a particular situation. In a well-thought out program, attention will be given to dealing with tricky cases, such as issues with one’s supervisor. Other details of the program — such as whether reports can be anonymous, the timeframe in which they will be dealt with, the range of consequences that may result from a violation of the company values, and the security of their report — are likely to be included.
In a government agency, the approach to ethics is more complicated, including policies, laws, and regulations. There are likely to be specific training and forms to do with topics like activities involving foreign entities, copyright and publication issues, and gift exceptions — such as an honorary degree, conflicts of interest, and financial disclosure.
@Vincenzo -- That may be true, but at least there is an attempt to teach legal ethics to attorneys. Ethics has become a big deal in just about any profession you would care to mention.
The thing about ethics in the law, business, medicine or anything else is that those classes are taught so that industries can be self regulating. If your attorney friends are not paying attention, that could be a problem at some point in the future.
If people are voluntarily paying attention to ethics classes, then there is always the possibility of some government entity making testing mandatory. it is in their best interest to pay attention to what is going on, then, and the same goes for professionals in any profession that is self regulated.
@Logicfest -- The lawyers I know all have to take continuing legal education classes every year and some ethics training is included. But I do wonder how effective those classes are. Those attorneys talk about playing games on their phones, checking email and doing business instead of paying attention to what is going on in their classes. It is like they are just sitting there so they can fulfill a requirement instead of trying to learn something.
Don't forget about legal ethics. All law students are required to take at least one ethics class and most states in the United States require attorneys to complete at least one hour of ethics as part of their annual continuing legal education requirement.
The reason there is such an emphasis on ethics is that lawyers have a major duty to do what is best for their clients and for the legal system as a whole. If lawyers violate their duty, then individuals suffer and the public loses confidence in the legal system.
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