Ethics practitioners build muscle with professional body

Building ethical awareness in companies have been given the back seat for too long. Ethics awareness training had been added on to leadership training as a single module. Ethical risk has been covered under operations on the executive meeting agenda, and ethics been a little more than a tick box exercise for corporate governance. But this will hopefully soon become a memory, writes Susan Williams.

On Friday, 18 January 2018, the Ethics Practitioners Association (EPA) held its first meeting with 15 people attending at Discovery’s new head offices in Sandton. Stephan Bezuidenhout opened the meeting and introduced Professor WA Landman as the honorary member of the association.

Professor Landman provided a brief overview of the work of Ethics Institute of South Africa (EISA) since 2000. The needs identified 17 years ago are still relevant today, namely that: Organisations (public and private) needed knowledge and skill about ethics if South Africa were to develop into a moral and ethical accountable business environment, and that a professional body would be required in time to support ethics professionals involved in business ethics.

To date, EISA’s Ethics Officer Certification Course has delivered 750 certified ethics officers, resulting in a need for a professional body that could be the mouthpiece and support organisation for ethics professionals throughout Africa. That need was realised with the introduction of the Ethics Practitioners Association. Its mandate is to professionalise business ethics practice.

Professor Landman defined “ethics practice” and “profession” according to two broad principles: First, practitioners must have self-awareness of themselves as members of a defined profession and adhere to the basic requirements of such a profession, rather than “doing just a job”. Second, the actions of a professional should project what the profession stands for.

He remarked that business ethics have evolved from being an addendum in the first King Report on Corporate Governance, to being allocated a place in the middle of the report in King II, to its rightful place right at the front of King IV. Whereas a Code of Ethics was enough before, “it is now inconceivable that people just want a generic code”, Professor Landman said.

The context and the timing for the founding of the EPA are perfect. The latest ethics scandals in South Africa, including Bell Pottinger and Steinhoff, indicate that ethics processes are needed at all levels of a business, to alleviate ethical risk throughout the business, and to prevent the far-reaching consequences of unethical conduct.

Professor Landman concluded that the EPA is based on a history of building ethical know-how and muscle in businesses, and that the association has come at the right time to support members who operate in a challenging business context.

Mr Bezuidenhout concluded the meeting with an overview of the EPA’s preparatory work since its inception in September 2017. He indicated that the EPA would follow the footprint of EISA throughout Africa. Focus areas now are to gain professional status for ethics officers, be recognised by SAQA, and to partner with other professional organisations.

“We don’t want to duplicate [other organisations], but want to associate,” Mr Bezuidenhout said.

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For ethics practitioners, who, like me, operate independently as consultants and facilitators, the EPA is a welcome body that would provide us with the necessary recognition as professionals who strive towards developing ethical responsiveness and accountability in organisations.

 

Susan Williams
Susan Williams is an independent OD-ETD practitioner, business writer and OD facilitator who focuses on organisational culture, ethics and storytelling, leadership and communication development, and analytical and complex thinking skills development. She specialises in skills training, organisational storytelling and narrative facilitation

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