Industry News

Ethics is by definition a grey area and often employees need to make quick decisions ‘on the ground’. The Institute of Business Ethics – in conjunction with international service company Serco - has developed an app to help…

So, a client offers you tickets and hospitality to finals day at Wimbledon. Is it merely a friendly gesture between trusted colleagues – or a bribe?

Or maybe you’re at a border crossing on a business trip and you’re asked for a $10 ‘facilitation fee’ to get your passport returned quickly. Do you pay or cause a scene?

As May's issue of Inside Out - the free online magazine for IoIC members - reports, these are the kinds of issues many employees face on a regular basis and, while there is not always an obvious answer, the Institute of Business Ethics (IBE) has created a ‘Say No Toolkit’ to help.

It’s available via an app and offers on-the-spot advice to a whole host of situations from when it is appropriate to offer or receive a gift to what to do if a friend working for a competitor offers you information. It was created as a reaction to the UK Bribery Act.

“We wanted to do something to help people in a practical way when they’re asked for things like ‘facilitation payments’,” explains Philippa Foster Back, director of IBE (pictured below).

“These problems can crop up for employees, particularly for people working in remote places on their own, maybe sales people.

“If you’re going through passport control or customs, in some countries you will be asked for money to get your passport back, maybe $10.

“If you have the page open on your smartphone, you can say I work for this company and I’m not allowed to make this payment. Psychologically, once you have broken eye contact and then show them in black and white a reason you can’t pay, it can be effective.”

Robert Smith, director of business compliance and ethics at Serco, agrees, which why his company agreed to fund development of the app and website.

“I wanted something that people could have in the palm of their hand at a point where they need to make a quick decision as to what to do if they’ve been put in a difficult situation,” he says.

“Even if it never gets used in anger, it could still help people know what to do in difficult situations if they’ve already looked at it.”

As for the situations mentioned at the start, of course there are nuances.

"When you’re in these sorts of situations, it’s not necessarily as obvious as you’d think and having something you can turn to is a good idea,” says Robert.

The app poses a number of questions to guide you through a few layers before leading you to a final decision. It will help direct you to yes or no and potentially what to do, e.g. phone your line manager.

“It’s not always black and white,” admits the Serco director. “For instance, with facilitation payments at an airport, you need to ask questions like is it a publicly listed tariff? Is everyone being asked for it? Are you going to get a receipt? Ask for a receipt and see what happens. It helps you to assess that.

“It can vary even with gifts and hospitality. If a client wants to take you to the Wimbledon final as a guest, it could be fine if they are a longstanding client who is two years into a five-year contract.

“If they are in the middle of a tender and the decision is due in two weeks, then it’s not a good idea.

“It's also useful to be able to show people to back you up on a decision – ‘My app says no’…”

Institute members can read more about this and download the IBE ethics app FREE via May's InsideOut. Other stories include a look at a free business support helpline available to those in IoIC, how IC is working across Europe, a look at 'intrapreneurs' in comms, a 'Who's who' at the top of IC, and Majestic Wine goes under the Spotlight.

To read or download the May edition of InsideOut, Institute members should log in at the top right of this screen. You’ll then find InsideOut in ‘Knowledge’– simply click on ‘Publications’ in the drop-down menu.

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