The question is often asked, Why do we need a code of ethics – are not human beings perfectly capable of discerning right from wrong? The knee-jerk answer would be  some are, but most are not!!!  However, here are some points to give a more reasoned answer.

We need a code of ethics to:

  • Make explicit and remind us of what we already know is right
  • Make the “grey areas” (doubtful situations) as clear as possible
  • Act as a deterrent in case we are tempted
  • Make it easier to “weed out” people who may hurt others and in the long term, themselves
  • Build public/customer trust
  • Protect the reputation of a profession or an organisation and ensure its success

Whatever it is called: a code of ethics or a code of conduct or an ethical policy, it seems sensible and good practice to make clear to staff, suppliers and customers alike, what the organisation expects in terms of behaviour. However a potential problem to look out for is conflict of codes. For example, a code of ethics which attempt to protect the reputation of a profession, may require with holding information, or covering up misdeeds of some within the profession. Clearly that would be unethical. This means that codes of ethics have to strike a balance. However,  the degree of professionalism of an organisations and its professionals will depend on the degree to which its code of ethics protects clients/customers/the public.

You can see a a summary of a wide range of codes of ethics or codes of conduct here: