Do codes of conduct help people behave ethically?

 Whether and how do corporate codes of conduct for employees and codes of ethics for members of trade associations help organizations prevent or address crisis situations caused by their employees or members?

Short answer: Yes, but only if you use them.

Codes of conduct don’t prevent ethical problems from arising. They don’t stop unethical people from behaving unethically. What they do provide is a method to determine whether something is ethical or not and how to ethically deal with a breach of ethics.  Used correctly, a code of conduct is a code of ethics. If there is a problem people should invoke the code and ask, what is the ethical thing to do here. What is the ‘good’ outcome.  It is only possible to have an ethical discussion if there is some agreement on what constitutes good.

In order to be useful, codes of conduct have to be used. Not as a bludgeon, but as a way to focus a discussion on what is ethical and what is good and what to do about things aren’t are neither ethical nor good.

I am the founder of Humanist Learning Systems and a board member for the USA chapter of the International Humanistic Management Association. I am an ethical philosopher who teaches people how to apply their ethics in their daily lives and in their businesses.


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