Peter Liria is the Chief Ethics Officer and Director of the Ethics Office for UNDP.
06 Aug 2013
I recently read an article in The Wall Street Journal entitled “Does Being Ethical Pay?”, which raised the following question: "Do consumers reward socially responsible companies?" And while UNDP is a non–profit organization, the question is very pertinent to us as well.
Yes. Unequivocally. Being ethical pays. By operating at a high moral and ethical level, we engender trust which helps grow confidence in our ability to deliver results. With trust, donors are more willing to commit and local governments more willing to engage with us. It is critical that we reinforce this message at every turn. Fostering an ethical culture throughout the organization instills in every staff member an obligation to do what's right. Embedded in our organizational fabric, it will guide staff’s behavior and decision-making.
And does being unethical cost? Absolutely. In the private sector, daily headlines report on many companies facing untold fines and lost business. But we in the UN can also be damaged. Donor countries are already scaling back contributions. If scandal were to hit, donations might dry up, projects cease and jobs be lost. Most importantly, our mandate would go unfulfilled, and the population we serve would suffer.
Our reputation is our most important asset. By reminding staff to consider possible consequences before they act, ethics will become second nature. If your actions today were to appear on the front page of The New York Times tomorrow, would you be concerned?
Maintaining an open door policy will go far in providing staff with the confidence to approach you when they come upon a questionable situation. “Bad news early is good news” because it allows you to take swift corrective action.
But it is not only our behavior that enters into the equation. Vendors, NGOs and contractors we retain all play a role. Those we recruit to represent us must be held to the same standards of ethics. And, as The Wall Street Journal article concludes: “Efforts to move toward ethical production, and promote that behavior, appear to be a wise investment.” Being ethical pays for all.
Tell us what you think: How do high ethical standards pay off in a non-profit environment?