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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 organizations 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 an organization's obligation to its stakeholders. The code is publicly available and addressed to anyone with an interest in that organization's activities and the way it operates. It will include details of how the organization 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 the organization's leaders and staff. It usually sets out restrictions on behavior, and will be far more focused on compliance or rules than on values or principles.

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 and difficult decisions that will often need to be made, and then 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 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."[1][page needed]

Listed below are a few example statements from the professional codes of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ):

PRSA Code of Ethics[2]
"Loyalty: We are faithful to those we represent, while honoring our obligation to serve the public interest."
"Fairness: We deal fairly with clients, employers, competitors, peers, vendors, the media, and the general public. We respect all opinions and support the right of free expression."
SPJ Code of Ethics[3]
"Minimize Harm … 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 … Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts."

General notes[edit]

Ethical codes are often adopted by management and also employers, 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,[4] 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.[5]

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.

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".[6]


Wood tablet from Jebel Moya, inscribed with an ethical code of conduct, relating to Moses (line 7) and Pharaoh (line 12)
Medical workers and physicians
Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief
Declaration of Geneva
Hippocratic Oath
Percival's Medical Ethics
Madrid Declaration on Ethical Standards for Psychiatric Practice[7]
Military, warfare, and other armed conflict
Bushidō (Japanese samurai)
Code of the U.S. Fighting Force
International Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation ("ICOC" or "Hague Code of Conduct")
Israel Defense Forces Code of Conduct
Pirate code
Uniform Code of Military Justice (United States)
Warrior code
Code of Ma'at (Ancient Egypt)
Eight Precepts (Buddhism)
Five Precepts (Buddhism)
Golden Rule / Ethic of reciprocity (various)
Seven Laws of Noah (Judaism)
Patimokkha (Buddhism)
Quran (Islam)
Rule of St. Benedict (Christian monasticism)
Ten Commandments (Abrahamic religions)
Ten Precepts (Buddhism)
Ten Precepts (Taoism)
Yamas and niyama (Hindu scriptures)
American Library Association Code of Ethics
Applied ethics
Aviators Model Code of Conduct
Global civics
ICC Cricket Code of Conduct
Institute of Internal Auditors, Code of Ethics
Journalist's Creed
Moral Code of the Builder of Communism

See also[edit]


  1. ^ PAIB Committee (31 May 2007). Defining and Developing an Effective Code of Conduct for Organizations. International Good Practice Guidance. The International Federation of Accountants (IFAC). ISBN 978-1-931949-81-1.
  2. ^ "PRSA Code of Ethics". Public Relations Society of America. Retrieved 19 August 2017.
  3. ^ "SPJ Code of Ethics". Society of Professional Journalists. 6 September 2014.
  4. ^ Buonomo, Giampiero (April–September 2000). "Elementi di deontologia politica". Nuovi studi politici (in Italian): 3–66.
  5. ^ Assemblée Nationale (2 August 2017). "Déontologie à l'Assemblée nationale". Assemblée Nationale (in French). Archived from the original on 27 March 2014. Retrieved 3 April 2017.
  6. ^ "Code of Ethics". Merriam Webster Dictionary. Retrieved March 23, 2017.
  7. ^ "Madrid Declaration on Ethical Standards for Psychiatric Practice". World Psychiatric Association. 21 September 2011. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 28 February 2013.


  • Ladd, John (1991). "The Quest for a Code of Professional Ethics: An Intellectual and Moral Confusion". In Johnson, Deborah G. (ed.). Ethical Issues in Engineering. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. ISBN 978-0-13-290578-7. OCLC 851033915.[pages needed]
  • Flores, Albert (1998). "The Philosophical Basis of Engineering Codes of Ethics". In Vesilind, P. Aarne; Gunn, Alastair S. (eds.). Engineering Ethics and the Environment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 201–209. ISBN 978-0-521-58112-7. OCLC 300458305.

External links[edit]