Definition of ethics
Ethics is a branch of philosophy that studies the difference between right and wrong. We have many opportunities to choose between right and wrong, and as we see in the business press, making the wrong decision can lead to serious consequences including corporate failure, loss of reputation, fines, or even jail sentences.
Different people will approach an ethical decision with different points of view, and we must all accept that different cultures, for example, approach ethics in different ways. In any situation, you must begin with the laws of your country. Next you look to the specific rules that govern the situation. For example, if you are an auditor, you will be bound by the relevant auditing standards in your jurisdiction. Then, as a professional, you must consider the principles of your professional body which form the basis of your professional ethics.
Most would see themselves as ethical. We usually like to feel we have done ‘the right thing’. Your personal ethics are as important as your professional ethics. It is one thing to know what you should do – what you are told you should do – but another thing to want to take the ‘correct’ course of action. Clearly, membership of a professional body requires adherence to a code of ethical conduct. As accountants, we ‘profess’ to a high standard of ethical behaviour. But leaving rules and regulations to one side, who is to say what is right and what is wrong?
Members of the public may place their trust in you because you are a member of a trusted professional body. The public is not expected to know how to assess either the ability or the ethics of a doctor, lawyer or accountant. They trust that the professional bodies will do that for them. This means that as a professional you owe the public a certain level of integrity and objectivity - as well as professional competence and due care, confidentiality, and professional behaviour. In other words you must uphold the five fundamental principles set out in ACCA’s Code of Ethics and Conduct, simply because you are a professional and you have professional ethics.
Your own values, interests and experiences are the filter through which you view any situation. It is important for you to be aware of those filters because they could influence your professional judgement. That is why it is important to be able to recognise your own personal ethical perspective when you exercise your professional ethics. It is important to be able to know the difference between the two. As a professional accountant, you should strive to maintain objectivity by being mindful of the fact that your personal values are just that - personal and unique to you.