AAT looks into ethical behaviour of SMEs in the UK

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AAT is well aware of the importance of ethics in business and the role it plays especially in the finance and accounting sector. Public trust has been dented with continual tax avoidance stories that seem to be never far from our newspaper front pages. We felt it important to conduct research to understand small business perception of ethical behaviour and values.

Our research clearly shows that the bigger the business, the less likely it is for business owners to trust their employees to act ethically.

We believe that the precedent for ethical behaviour needs to be set from the highest level in order for ethics to be taken seriously within all echelons of a business. If management implements the framework for ethical behaviour appropriately, it can become a great support or guidance tool for employees. Take a look at the full press release on the ethics microsite.

If you’re a start-up business and haven’t got a code of ethics in place then here are some top tips to help you get started.

1.    Firstly… develop a code of ethics. This sets out your organisation’s ethical values to the world.

2.    Get people involved. Your staff can contribute to the development of your values, but of equal importance, they need to understand how they should apply your organisation’s values in their role.

3.    Designate an ‘ethics champion’. This person can be a point of contact for colleagues who need to seek advice on ethical dilemmas.

4.    Regularly engage with staff on ethics. Any new employee should be aware of the ethical values you have enshrined in your code during their induction. In the same way, existing employees need to be reminded of these values on a regular basis through staff meetings or workshops with real life examples where people are asked to give their input. This is a good exercise to put employees’ training in ethics to the test.

5.    Remember – customers will judge your organization based on your ethical values. It takes a lifetime to build a good reputation in the market. It only takes one ethical failing for customers to lose trust and confidence in your organisation.

6.    If you work with unethical suppliers, your organisation will be judged for this. Your supply chain is as much of a reflection of your organisation as your employees are. Working with suppliers with values at odds with your own can undermine the credibility of your ethical stance.

7.    Consider business ethics when planning. When planning new ventures, consider the ethical implications in light of your values and if there are any ethical risks. This will help prevent ethical problems occurring in each activity the business does.

8.    Highlight the impact of your organisation’s ethical approach to the market. New clients are drawn to work with organisations demonstrating integrity. If you’re doing this – tell the world you are!

9.    Remember – ethical companies are sustainable companies. Preparing your organisation to survive in the future is no easy process. But we have seen large corporate entities fail on the basis of ethics – don’t let this happen to you.

10.    Most importantly… an ethical culture needs to be led from the top. Make sure your Chief Executive or Managing Director lives the values of your organisation, and expects the same of the senior management team. Staff will expect to be led by example.

Interested in developing a code of ethics, take a look at ours. Keep abreast of ethical news by signing up to the ethics microsite newsletter.

Adam Harper is AAT's Director of Professional Standards & Policy..

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