Gigi Dawe is a part-time faculty member at York University, for the Master’s of Financial Accountability Program. She teaches a course on Corporate Ethics. In this interview she speaks about some of the key issues to consider concerning ethics in Corporate Governance. In this interview, Gigi speaks about Corporate Ethics.

How do you define Corporate Ethics and how can organizations create best practices in Ethics?

There is really no narrow definition for Corporate Ethics.Companies need to balance doing good and making a profit and understand the two sides are not mutually exclusive.

There is pressure, internally and externally for corporations to demonstrate responsible decision-making. Corporations must continually assess how their practices enhance their ability to make a profit, while being sensitive to ethical concerns for consumers and stakeholders. They also need to see that socially responsible decisions create value for companies.

Who do you think are some of the players in Corporate Ethics and who is responsible?

Everyone involved with a corporation has responsibility for ethics.Shareholders, investors, boards, CEOs, executives and all other employees in an organization influence decisions. The board is in a position to question themselves’ and management regarding ethics and front line employees play a role with each decision they make or interaction they may have with customers.

All players need to carefully consider whether an action that is legal, is also ethical. There are two stages in that assessment. Is a decision simply amoral decision makers have not even considered whether an action is ethically right when making a perfectly legal decision. Or is a decision legal but immoral (unethical).

Do you find Corporate Social Responsibility is a topic for which boards have a good oversight role?

Yes. Boards play an important oversight role. Board members and senior executives are responsible to establish an ethical tone, so play a key role in influencing significant socially responsible decisions. The tone they establish will influence the type of decisions made throughout an organization.

However, no single committee or individual is responsible – we all are. Each party must take an active role in corporate social responsibility. It is not good enough to simply point fingers at the board, shareholders, the CEO, or front line workers, etc. We all must take responsibility for our socially responsible actions.

What are some steps that corporations can take to enhance good Ethical Behaviour?

Corporations need to have clear policies and an ethical tone. All senior and board level players should encourage asking the question”is this a good financial, legal and ethical decision?” It is also important that employees have a clear process to blow the whistle with no consequences for doing so.Otherwise people may be afraid to speak up. Corporations also need a process to engage with shareholders so they are hearing and responding to their views on issues.

What do you enjoy most about teaching Corporate Ethics to Master students?

I enjoy helping people to understand why corporate social responsibility and ethical decision making is important and that profit making and socially responsible decision-making is not mutually exclusive. Students are the future leaders of corporations. If we can convince them to ask the right questions and see that there are two sides to actions and decisions (profit and ethics) they will be more effective. I also enjoy the discussion and perspectives students bring to the table  – just how much I learn from them!