I guess everyone should have their own professional and personal standards when it comes to ethical conducts and standards, but in an age where corporate and social responsibilities are becoming more important values to employees and customers, who is responsible for defining and maintaining the company or business standards? Who should ethical issues within the company be raised with?

closed as off-topic by Myles, gnat, Philip Kendall, scaaahu, Jane S May 29 '15 at 3:18

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    Many companies will have an ethics office that is a part of either legal or HR but this will vary company by company. – Myles May 28 '15 at 16:38

who is responsible for defining and maintaining the company or business standards?

Ethics are... complicated. You can't just decide for a product or process, "this is ethical" and expect everyone to believe/agree.

There are:

  • Cultural factors. What is appropriate in some cultures is not in others.
  • Social factors. Current trends also have a significant effect on 'what is ethical?'
  • Individuals. Everyone is different. Some have very different perspectives on what is ethical.
  • Company culture. Some companies have different policies that are reflective of their employees and products. For example, renewable companies probably have different perspectives on ethical behavior than deforestation companies -- at least as relates to the environment...
  • Leadership direction. If executives at your company expect and enforce certain behaviors, that will craft a more specific ethic for your company.

But at the end of the day, what a company considers ethical will be a combination of the above factors.

Each company will arrive at it differently. There is no "magic formula" or one size fits all process to get to this.

Who should ethical issues within the company be raised with?

For suspected violations, many larger companies have compliance hotlines/etc. So if someone sees unethical things, there are specific processes to follow.


The responsibility lies with the ownership of the company. Effectively, that means the Board of Directors in larger corporations, or the owning partner(s).

These responsibilities may, of course, be delegated to executives.

As to who to raise the issues with? It always is the best course to start with your immediate supervisor. If the issue is with your supervisor, the escalation path from that point would depend on your company policies.

  • I would be a bit worried if the responsibility lies with the ownership of the company because there might be clear conflicts of interest there... I believe raising it with the immediate supervisor is good, but again there might be some conflicts of interest if you have different views with the supervisor and you are raising it with him/her. – Michael Lai May 28 '15 at 21:14
  • @MichaelLai - I don't see any conflicts of interest, at all. Responsibility for a company's activities lies firstly and solely with the ownership. Always has, always will. They can delegate, but the ownership is ALWAYS the responsible party. No one else has any direct authority, only delegated authority. – Wesley Long May 28 '15 at 22:28
  • who is the responsible party? The person who asked for the product to be built, the person who designed it, or the person who built it, or all three? – Michael Lai May 28 '15 at 22:29
  • What is the ethical issue in building a product? Unless the product is illegal, you are only conducting business. If it IS illegal, ethics don't apply, as law supersedes ethics. – Wesley Long May 28 '15 at 22:32
  • The product might be legal, but the way the product is being designed to be used might not be ethical. – Michael Lai May 28 '15 at 22:55

Take it up with HR. They are the ones who are charges with ensuring company-wide compliance with the labor laws and management policies. They won't debate ethics with you but they will give you an opninion as to whether a course of action meets the ethical standards as set by top management - an opinion that you should heed, barring exceptional circumstances as a top company's management gone rogue and whistle blowing is turning into an option worth going through.

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    Most HR department that I have dealt with as part of my induction or performance review have managed to side-step this topic in some way when I have touched on it. Who else would you go to if you can't take it up with HR? – Michael Lai May 28 '15 at 14:41
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    @Michael Lai Nowhere else. Your manager might have their preferences but at the end of the day, they have to run their preferences by HR. As I said, HR defines ethical conduct, as per the dictates of management and the imperative to be in compliance with the law, so if HR does not respond to your questions, no one does. Some, and only some, organizations have an ethics office that you could go to. – Vietnhi Phuvan May 28 '15 at 20:19
  • if hr refuses to answer, ask your manager. Finding an answer for you is part of his responsibilities. But do ask HR and Legal first, since they're the first people he's likely to point you to. – keshlam May 28 '15 at 22:26
  • The reason why I am asking is that HR and legal seem to sidestep the issue, at least when it comes from a designer. The manager doesn't normally put ethics and professional standards before delivery, so where would one go after that (and before writing a resignation letter)? – Michael Lai May 28 '15 at 23:12

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