Four out of five businesses worldwide have committed to ethical performance, but rhetoric does not always match reality, according to a new report from the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) and Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA).
The report found a weakened ‘tone from the top’ and more pressure on financial professionals – especially in emerging economies – to act unethically.
"Managing Responsible Business", a global survey of almost 2000 chartered global management accountants (CGMAs) in nearly 80 countries, found that 80% of organisations provide a code of ethics to guide employees about ethical standards in their work, up from 72% in 2008.
However, only 36% collect ethics information such as the number of employees attending ethics training and actions taken on hotline reports. Since ethical performance can only be managed with the right information, this suggests ethical practice falls short of stated policy, according to the report.
What’s more, neither senior management nor boards of directors seem to be reviewing, analysing and monitoring ethics information at the level recorded four years ago. In 2008, 86% of senior management and 68% of boards reviewed ethics data, according to the report. In 2012, it was 78% and 56% respectively.
This ‘weakened tone from the top’ comes as more than a third of those surveyed (35%) said they sometimes or always feel pressured to compromise their organisation’s standards of ethical conduct.
This compares to 28% of respondents in 2008.
The pressure is most pronounced in developing economies such as Malaysia (54%) and India (51%), and lowest in the UK and US, where 18% of those surveyed feel pressure.
"Positive steps have been taken to build the architecture for ethics through codes and policies, but pressure to act unethically persists and companies across the globe continue to be faced with the challenge of strengthening ethical culture from the top,"’ says AICPA president and CEO Barry Melancon, CPA, CGMA.
Melancon notes that CGMAs can play a key role in guiding companies in how to better collect and report ethical information by drawing on their training and understanding of professional ethics, as well as their skills in obtaining, analysing and acting upon management information.
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