Charities 'should have individual codes of ethics'

A briefing from the Institute of Business Ethics says such codes should be supported by training, advice lines and whistleblowing processes

Public: trust has been eroded by a series of scandals
Public: trust has been eroded by a series of scandals

Each charity should have an individual code of ethics in place to ensure the highest standards of integrity exist in the organisation and to improve trust in the sector, a new paper says.

In a briefing released yesterday, the Institute of Business Ethics, which promotes high standards of business practice based on ethical values, says that, given recent negative newspaper headlines about charities, codes of ethics can help to ensure "coherent and consistent behaviour" among staff and volunteers.

They can also provide reassurance to funders, donors, partners and sponsors, the briefing says.

The publication comes after a series of scandals that affected charities in the first half of this year, most notably the allegations of historic sexual misconduct by staff at Oxfam and Save the Children.

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations is developing a code of conduct for the charity sector, and a new Charity Governance Code was introduced last year.

The IBE says that charities should include ethical decision-making frameworks in their codes of ethics to cover situations that are not explicitly covered in the governance code.

Codes of ethics also need to be properly embedded in each charity and should be supported by training, an advice line for staff who want guidance and a whistleblowing process to report indiscretions, the briefing says.

The IBE says that a survey of more than 6,000 employees in eight European countries, including the UK, shows that ethics programmes lead to greater trust in the organisation from employees and staff are more likely to believe that more senior staff support them in following the organisation’s standards of behaviour.

"A code of ethics should reflect the unique needs and aims of their organisation, their individual circumstances, history, values, culture and scope," the briefing says.

"Recent events demonstrate that existing for the public good does not absolve charities from tackling the significant and complex ethical issues facing today’s organisations.

"The stronger the code of ethics and supporting ethics programme in place in a charity, the less risk there will be of misconduct."

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