Ethical code

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Ethical codes are adopted by organizations to assist members in understanding the difference between 'right' and 'wrong' and in applying that understanding to their decisions. An ethical code generally implies documents at three levels: codes of business ethics, codes of conduct for employees, and codes of professional practice.

Code of ethics or code of conduct? (corporate or business ethics)[edit]

Many companies use the phrases ethical code and code of conduct interchangeably but it may be useful to make a distinction. A code of ethics will start by setting out the values that underpin the code and will describe a company's obligation to its stakeholders. The code is publicly available and addressed to anyone with an interest in the company's activities and the way it does business. It will include details of how the company plans to implement its values and vision, as well as guidance to staff on ethical standards and how to achieve them. However, a code of conduct is generally addressed to and intended for employees alone. It usually sets out restrictions on behavior, and will be far more compliance or rules focused than value or principle focused.

Code of practice (professional ethics)[edit]

A code of practice is adopted by a profession or by a governmental or non-governmental organization to regulate that profession. A code of practice may be styled as a code of professional responsibility, which will discuss difficult issues, difficult decisions that will often need to be made, and provide a clear account of what behavior is considered "ethical" or "correct" or "right" in the circumstances. In a membership context, failure to comply with a code of practice can result in expulsion from the professional organization. In its 2007 International Good Practice Guidance, Defining and Developing an Effective Code of Conduct for Organizations, the International Federation of Accountants[1] provided the following working definition: "Principles, values, standards, or rules of behavior that guide the decisions, procedures and systems of an organization in a way that (a) contributes to the welfare of its key stakeholders, and (b) respects the rights of all constituents affected by its operations." Listed below are a few examples of professional codes from the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

  • Minimize Harm (Honesty) - Public Relations Society of America Code of Ethics – It is possible to get the truth out without having to put someone’s life and reputation in jeopardy.
  • Proper Conduct (Patience) - Public Relations Society of America Code of Ethics – Being able to work under individuals and get the job done despite differences will help you move forward in the long run with your career. Being patient and being able to listen and make the right decisions make a better PR.
  • Enhancing Professional Relationships (kindness) - public relations society of America Code of Ethics – being able to get along with your clients, gain their trust and them being able to confide in you and get the best possible results from your services always starts with kindness. Being able to get along with the individual is beneficial to both yourself and the client.
  • Show Loyalty (Faithfulness) - Public Relations Society of America Code of Ethics - be faithful to those we represent, while honoring our obligation to serve the public interest.
  • Act Fairly (Fairness) - Public Relations Society of America Code of Ethics - deal fairly with clients, employers, competitors, peers, vendors, the media, and the general public. Respect all opinions and support the right of free expression.
  • Act Independently (Courage) - Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics – being independent and taking on your own ventures and missions to get the story takes courage. This means that you take risks to get the job done.
  • Minimize Harm (Honesty) - Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics - Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance or undue intrusiveness. Balance a suspect’s right to a fair trial with the public’s right to know. Consider the implications of identifying criminal suspects before they face legal charges.
  • Act Independently (Independency) - Society of Professional Journalist Code of Ethics - Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts.

General notes[edit]

Ethical codes are often adopted by management, not to promote a particular moral theory, but rather because they are seen as pragmatic necessities for running an organization in a complex society in which moral concepts play an important part.

They are distinct from moral codes that may apply to the culture, education, and religion of a whole society. It is debated whether the politicians should apply a code of ethics,[2] or whether it is a profession entirely discretionary, just subject to compliance with the law: however, recently codes of practice have been approved in this field.[3]

Often, acts that violate ethical codes may also violate a law or regulation and can be punishable at law or by government agency remedies.

Even organizations and communities that may be considered criminal in nature may have ethical codes of conduct, official or unofficial. Examples could include hacker communities, bands of thieves, and street gangs.

The Jewish Written Torah and Oral Torah comprise the earliest and best preserved ethical code. Adapted to every field of actual day-to-day life for thousands of years, Jewish Halakha is the oldest collective body of religious laws, laws and jurisdictions still in use.

Codes seek to define and delineate the difference between conduct and behavior that is malum in se, malum prohibitum, and good practice. Sometimes ethical codes include sections that are meant to give firm rules, but some offer general guidance, and sometimes the words are merely aspirational.

In sum, a code of ethics is an attempt to codify "good and bad behavior".[4]


Wood tablet from Jebel Moya, inscribed with an ethical code of conduct, relating to Moses (line 7) and Pharaoh (line 12).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "International Accounting - Accounting & Auditing Standards - IFAC - IFAC". 
  2. ^ (in Italian) Giampiero Buonomo, Elementi di deontologia politica, in Nuovi studi politici, aprile-settembre 2000, pp. 3 ss..
  3. ^ Nationale, Assemblée. "Déontologie à l'Assemblée nationale - Assemblée nationale". Retrieved 3 April 2017. 
  4. ^ "Code of Ethics". Merriam Webster Dictionary. Retrieved March 23, 2017. 
  5. ^ "World Psychiatric Association / Madrid Declaration on Ethical Standards for Psychiatric Practice". 


  • Ladd, John. "The Quest for a Code of Professional Ethics: An Intellectual and Moral Confusion." In Deborah G. Johnson (ed.) Ethical Issues in Engineering. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1991.
  • Flores, Albert. "The Philosophical Basis of Engineering Codes of Ethics." In Vesilind P.A. and A. Gunn (eds), Engineering Ethics and the Environment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998: 201–209.

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