Application Guide for EPAC’s Ethical Standards
Guidance for Applying the Ethical Standards for Members of the Ethics Practitioner’s Association of Canada
The following explanations are provided as clarification and are not part of the standards themselves (which are found under Our Ethical Standards). They should be viewed as practice guidelines or suggestions for best practice for ethics service providers.
An ethics practitioner is defined as a person or organization that offers or performs ethics-related services for their employer, as an educator, or as an independent contractor to other individuals or organizations. Examples of ethics-related services are: speeches, seminars, instruction, consultation, implementation, and the performance of surveys or research involving topics such as decision-making tools, hot lines, codes of ethics, values statements, on-line advisories, and use of ombudspersons.
Members of EPAC subscribe to the following values: caring, fairness, respect, responsibility, and trustworthiness (including honesty, integrity, reliability, and loyalty).
I. Responsibility to Clients
- Serve the long-term well-being of our clients and stakeholders.
- Recognize the personal, organizational, cultural beliefs and values relevant to serving our clients.Everyone and every organization has its own set of beliefs and values whether they are written down or not. It is important in dealing with others that we recognize and are sensitive to these differences and take into account the needs and wants of all stakeholders.As ethics practitioners we must stand above these differences and be careful not to impose our beliefs and values on our clients.This does not mean, however, that we allow ourselves to become engaged in illegal or unethical activities because a company or organization, that we are assisting, acts in such a manner. Nor does it mean that we should not assist others to understand and assess ethical values and improve their ability to make ethical decisions.We also need to recognize that taking the right ethical action does not always satisfy everyone’s value system and therefore may not satisfy all stakeholders.
- Be particularly sensitive to diversity when serving clients in multicultural and international environments.Diversity is a term that has come to mean culture, ethnicity, gender, ability and other areas that differentiate individuals or groups.We need to be even more alert to the differences cited in the Section A.1 above, when dealing in multicultural and international environments. Many individuals and organizations have offended people by not taking the time to understand and respect the ways of other cultures.Example: Avoid using words, body language, visual aids or jokes that might be perceived as degrading, stereotyping, harassing, or otherwise offensive to individuals or groups.
- Be prepared to make explicit our beliefs, values and ethics as ethics practitioners.By being open about EPAC’s mission, standards and values, we can avoid misunderstanding and difficult situations. This point relates to being open about ourselves, our background and our commitments as a member of EPAC and any other organization whose ethical standards apply to oneself. It does not mean forcing EPAC’s or one’s personal beliefs and values on others.Example: It is recommended that you should include a copy of the Ethical Standards For Members of EPAC in your proposals so that all potential clients are aware of the standards to which you adhere. Another way to provide information on your background would be to include your resume (C.V.) and the fact that you are an EPAC member in your proposal.
- Be prepared to help clients provide ethics services for themselves.As the saying goes: Give people fish and you feed them for a day, teach them to fish and you feed them for a lifetime. We should not be satisfied with simply providing ethics services to others. It is by helping others: enhance ethical decision making capabilities, recognize the ethical dimension within business or operational issues, and, where practical, provide ethical services within their own organizations that real progress is made.Example: You can assist your clients to implement and reinforce ethics programs including components such as: decision-making tools, hot lines, codes of ethics, on-line advisories, surveys and use of ombudspersons.
- Inform clients if there is serious doubt that they can benefit from our continuing services, or if our services cannot be provided in the letter and spirit of this code.It is important not to rationalize taking on work or continuing services when you see personal benefit but little or none for the client. Don’t justify your actions by telling yourself that if you don’t do it someone else will. By providing services of little value, we are violating our own core values of fairness, honesty and integrity. It is recommended that you discuss any concerns with your client.You may find it necessary to inform your client of situations in their organization that do not meet the letter or spirit of these standards. Examples might be:
- the use of a third party’s confidential information that was improperly obtained, or
- situations that endanger public health or safety.
In extreme cases, where the problems are not remedied, you may find it necessary to withdraw your services, taking into account any contractual implications.
- Conduct any professional activity, program or relationship in ways that are honest, responsible, and appropriately open.
- Strive for professional behaviour that meets the test of the highest internationally available ethical standards.Acceptable practices and ethical standards will vary with geography and over time. Strive to adhere to the highest, internationally-available ethical standards both in spirit and in letter as you become aware of positive changes . (Ethical standards may differ from legal standards.)
- Inform those with whom we work about the implications and risks, if any, of their participation.Advise those with whom we work about the real issues, questions, merits, implications, risks and probable results inherent in actions or decisions, thus enabling them to make informed and responsible decisions.
- Be prepared to provide for our own accountability by evaluating and assessing the effects of our work.Accountability involves recognizing the interests and needs of all potential stakeholders when making ethical decisions. (for example, the client, the client’s competitors, external auditors, the public, or even another ethics practitioner.) In addition, it is valuable to have our performance evaluated by the client and it is also useful to have this done occasionally by a third party.Example: Where a contract for ethics services is received from a government source, it may be desirable to obtain a letter confirming that the contract has been awarded in a fashion that conforms to a fair process (public tender, standing offer, or other established procedure). Also, client expectation and/or feedback forms can be used to receive a performance evaluation.
- Establish fair contracts, ensuring mutual understanding and agreement about services to be performed and remuneration.Contracts serve the important function of ensuring that the responsibilities and obligations of both parties are clearly understood.Example: Be precise about deliverables and the scope of work. Don’t use confusing, complex language or “small print” to hide things or mislead the other party.
- Encourage transparency and frankness wherever possible, as an important adjunct to ethical behaviour.Encourage full and undisguised presentation and appraisals of positions and endeavour to improve ethical conduct.Examples: Provide open access to information in a decision-making or decision-influencing situation. Give people all the information they need to make the decision as opposed to providing only selected, one-sided information that supports your or someone else’s predetermined position.In character issues, make people look at the ethical values behind a problem. For example, if staff are taking office supplies for their personal businesses, this is theft.
- Respect the confidentiality of information when transparency is not appropriate.
- Never divulge confidential or private information without the consent of the parties concerned, unless the disclosure is required by law or necessitated by public health and safety.Information about other companies or individuals should be treated with sensitivity and discretion.When provided with confidential or private information required for the performance of your work, you should use it only in the proper context and make it available only to those who have been approved to receive it and who have a legitimate need to know. Do not use, copy, distribute or disclose that information unless this is done in accordance with the permission of the owner of the information.In the course of normal business activities, suppliers, customers, and competitors may sometimes divulge information that is proprietary to their business. Respect these confidences.Use the same care and discretion to avoid disclosure of others’ confidential or private information as you would for your own similar information. If you have been exposed to information that you believe is of a confidential nature, where possible, identify the exposure to the owner of the information. Proprietary information which you should not have received should not be kept or maintained. Proprietary information that you received as part of your work, such as ethics audit interviews, should be returned or destroyed when no longer required or handled in a manner outlined in any appropriate agreements existing between you and the provider of the information.There may be situations where you are required by law or necessitated by public health and safety to disclose confidential information. For example, some jurisdictions require the disclosure of knowledge regarding the proposed commission of a serious crime such as fraud, theft, or murder. It is advisable to seek the guidance of legal counsel in such situations.You may wish to advise the client, in advance, of the types of situations that you would feel obligated to report to authorities.
- Make the limits of confidentiality clear to clients and participants.It is always wise to discuss with clients:
- any required access to,
- the identification of, and
- the handling of
confidential information prior to proceeding with any work that may involve disclosure of your, or the client’s, confidential information. In some cases it may be necessary to put formal agreements in place regarding confidential information. Legal guidance on such matters is recommended.
Always identify confidential information to participants. Where possible, such information should be labelled as confidential.
Comments on ethics audits: When performing an ethics audit, anything that could identify the participants of surveys must be protected or destroyed upon completion. Make it clear to your client prior to commencement that you will not provide any particulars that would breach confidentiality commitments by identifying the personal source of audit information.
It is not a requirement of EPAC that the results of an ethics audit be made public. It is recommended, however, that you include a provision in your contract requiring your approval before the client makes public any part of, or summary of, an ethics audit or when making public comments about audit results. Also, reserve the right to respond to any unapproved public comment by the client. This will prevent any misrepresentation to the public of an audit you conducted.
- Avoid conflicts of interest
- As may be reasonable under the circumstances, inform the client at the earliest opportunity when serving similar organizations.”Similar organizations” include organizations that are, or have recently, been in competition with a prospective client. In the case of government clients, this can include organizations with differing interests from the clients.The client has a right to know that you may be providing similar services within her or his industry or area of operation. This is not to say that specific client names be identified. In fact identification of specific client names may violate confidentiality requirements that you already have in place. It is normal for consultants and business to have multiple clients within the same business segment. Through open discussions, any potential concerns relating to conflicting interests that clients may raise can normally be handled to both parties’ satisfaction.Example: Sometimes this disclosure is accomplished through the common practice of listing past and current clients in your brochure. In some cases it may be necessary to assign different people to similar clients in order to address your and/or a client’s concerns.
- Never use inside or non-public information about a client for our own financial benefit or other advantage without the client’s consent.Non-public information includes inside information from the client, competitors, industry associations, stakeholders and other sources.Avoid any relationship, influence, or activity that might impair, or even appear to impair, your ability to make objective and fair decisions when performing your work.You should not evade these guidelines by acting through, or delegating, to anyone else.Examples: You should not buy or sell the stock of a customer based on any inside information you have about that company as a result of working for that client.If you have non-public information about a client embarking on a project that will increase real estate prices, neither you nor related parties, such as family members or business partners, should invest in land or in any business which stands to benefit from the use or price of that land.
- Ensure the full accuracy of our statements about any aspect of our work, including promotion and advertising. This is simply “truth in advertising”. Do not make claims that are false or misleading. It is always best to use data and examples that that can be independently verified.Examples: Do not state that you have a company as a client unless that client would support such a claim. Do not claim that you are “the best at” or “world leader of” something unless there is data to back it up.
- Avoid undertaking to achieve results which are beyond our capacity to deliver. Do not accept a contract for services that you are unable to complete in an acceptable and timely manner.This does not mean that we can not go into new areas of practice or expand our current level of skills. We increase our skills and grow personally and professionally by taking on new projects. We can also use other resources to compensate for areas where we may not have the required skills. However, such situations need to be properly evaluated so that predictable or probable unacceptable results do not occur that will discredit oneself and the ethics profession.
- Refrain from accepting or offering gifts, other than customary hospitality, that could in any way be construed as solicitations of favours. Avoid acting, or appearing to act, in a way that may be interpreted as preferential treatment or bribery. The usual standard is that which is socially acceptable in the circumstances.Example: Gifts, if they are ever acceptable, should a) be limited to nominal items such as pens, mugs etc. while acceptable hospitality might be a meal of reasonable cost, and b) not be seen to be influencing a person’s judgement or decision.In the petroleum and environmental industries, employees are generally limited to gifts of $20.00 to $25.00 or of nominal value.Ethics Practitioners should lead by example and should strive for a “no gift” policy where personal involvement is concerned. However, one needs to be sensitive to those countries or cultures where not exchanging a gift would be considered a social insult (as opposed to a gift or payment required to secure a contract). In such a case it may appropriate to accept a gift. One may want to consider donating the gift to a charitable organization.
II. Personal Responsibility
- Act with integrity and candour Act with honesty and moral soundness. Acting with integrity has also come to imply consistency of actions with stated socially accepted values.
- Recognize personal needs and interests, and assert them in ways that are fair to all concerned Balance your personal needs with fair treatment of other stakeholders, for example, peers, clients and competitors. Strive to understand who may be affected by your actions and determine whose interests need to be considered when contemplating a particular course of behaviour.
- Develop and maintain our individual competence and expertise. As ethics practitioners we should strive to keep up-to-date with information and techniques that will result in the best ethics services available.Examples: Methods to keep up-to-date might include: taking courses; maintaining association memberships; attendance and participation in conferences and panel discussions; public speaking; reading and reviewing books and articles; writing for journals and newsletters; using the Internet as a resource; and, of course, hands-on knowledge through one’s own practice.
- Establish co-operative relations with other professionals. This can be done by extending our co-operation beyond ethics associates to other professionals so that we might help them and ourselves do our respective jobs better. This form of co-operation will also serve to enhance our profession as a whole.Example: Give talks to other associations or invite other professionals to speak at our association meetings.
III. Responsibility to the Profession
- Contribute to the continuing professional development of other ethics practitioners, and to the development of the profession as a whole in Canada and abroad. By contributing to the continuing professional development of the ethics community, EPAC members help to raise the overall quality and respectability of the profession, which benefits everyone in the field.Examples: Ethics practitioners can contribute to professional development by giving advice to other members on new ideas, techniques, or opportunities (for example by writing for the EPAC newsletter or other publications), or by participating in joint educational seminars.
- Promote the sharing of professional knowledge and skill, giving credit for the ideas and production of others. Due to the nature of our profession, there will be opportunities for practitioners to gain access to another consultant’s intellectual property, whether this is materials (models, examples, scenarios, overheads, videos) or training techniques, and to use such information in their own consulting practice. Unless the information is already in the public domain, practitioners should always get permission to use the intellectual property of others, or make proper acknowledgement and/or payment as required. Due credit should always be given for the source of the information.Ethics practitioners should realize that, in the long term, it is better for the ethics consulting community to assist each other whenever possible. Clearly, some practitioners will have more connections, greater access to new developments, or specialized knowledge. By using these advantages to assist and mentor one another, the overall quality of the profession is enhanced.Examples: Co-operation and assistance between ethics practitioners might take several forms, such as benchmarking, identifying or referring potential clients to other practitioners, pointing out articles or studies which one is aware of, co-participating on audit teams, giving suggestions on getting new business, or providing ideas on how to better conduct current business.There are examples of ethics officers from different corporations who, unlike most other corporate functional groups, go out of their way to assist each other in the development of ethics programs (e.g., codes, training, ombudsmen, software). This type of behaviour should reinforce the belief that the requirement in our Code to “promote the sharing of professional knowledge and skill” can and should set us apart from many other professional consultants.
- Work actively to ensure ethical practices by individuals and organizations engaged in ethics activities. EPAC’s mission is to support and enhance ethical behaviour in organizations. To achieve this goal, ethics practitioners should always try to promote ethical practices on the part of both other ethics practitioners as well as our clients. Clearly, if an ethics practitioner is aware that individuals or organizations are breaking the law, this must be pointed out. When other ethics practitioners or clients are engaged in unethical activity, they should vigorously be made aware and encouraged to change their behaviour, not only because of bottom line considerations, but also because it is the right thing to do.Examples: It may be the case that an ethics practitioner will discover that his/her client or another ethics practitioner is supporting an organizational culture which encourages harassment or discrimination, an unsafe workplace, or deceptive selling practices. As ethics practitioners we have a unique opportunity to make these individuals and organizations aware of the ethical implications of supporting such a managerial culture, and to encourage them to make any appropriate changes.
- Accept, where possible, some clients who cannot pay full fees An EPAC professional should consider “pro-bono” work for three reasons. First, he or she should be motivated by considerations other than money alone. Second, society benefits from, and functions best when everyone, including those with limited finances, have access to ethically-enhanced resources. Third, such “pro-bono” work enhances the public perception and social acceptance of ethics service providers.
- Act in ways that bring credit to the ethics profession, and with due regard for colleagues in other professions. Service providers should act in ways that brings credit upon members of EPAC and the profession within Canada. This means interacting with one’s peers, the public, and other professional self-regulating organizations in ways that promote the profession in a positive light.Examples: It is recommended that members, when speaking at an EPAC-authorized event, acknowledge by name other members who are in attendance. It is recommended that members mention their association with EPAC in their biographies and resumes, include a copy of these Standards in bids and proposals, and advise the client that they have committed in writing to abiding by them. It is recommended that members, where appropriate, cooperate with each other in cases of referral.
- Avoid actions that may be considered as denigrating the work of professional peers or EPAC. Every effort should be made to avoid criticizing the work of peers. It is legitimate to compare positively one’s services with others but it is highly inappropriate, unprofessional and unnecessary to try and establish one’s credentials or build oneself up by disparaging the work of others.Examples: When selling your services, do not badmouth the competition. Professionals may disagree in their assessments, but when asked by others to review the prior work of another member, all comments should be carefully considered and, if the invitation is accepted, those comments should deal with objective, performance-based facts, not innuendo, or personal matters.
- No member will engage in a review of the work of another EPAC member without notifying both the member involved and EPAC. When asked by a client to review the prior work of another member, we should first notify the Chair of the Ethics and Standards Committee of EPAC and the relevant member. Any comments resulting from such a review should deal with objective, factual matters, not personal or “ad hominem” (against the individual) matters.