Sample Ethics Paper on Professional Ethics

Definition

Professional ethics is the expected code of conduct, which is normally set by a professional body or organization, with the aim of helping members of the profession to perform their jobs in accordance with ethical principles (Brecher, B. p.241). Professional ethics has three dimensions which include personal ethics, organizational ethics and corporate ethics. Personal ethics refer to an individual’s code of conduct (Adfl, p.185). These are the values which an individual embodies as a result of their character or personality. Personal ethics is not coerced but rather it is a personal choice. Organizational ethics refers to the situation whereby some organizations lay out specific values that every employee is expected to embody. The values are the definition of professional ethics in these organizations. The most common values within organizations include integrity, transparency, confidentiality, objectivity, respect for other people, loyalty, among others. As opposed to personal ethics, organizational ethics can be coerced. This is what differentiates it from personal ethics. There are many forms of ethics some of which include business ethics, information ethics, bioethics, machine ethics, military ethics, political ethics, publication ethics, and relational ethics, among others.

Key terms

Profession – a job normally acquired only after going through rigorous training and acquiring                 relevant formal qualifications.

Professional – a person who is a qualified in a particular profession and gets paid based on qualifications.

Ethics – the expected code of conduct; set out moral principles

Values – an individual’s or organization’s standards of behavior/ principles

Distinction between professional ethics and other forms of ethics

Professional ethics Vs. Morals

The two concepts can be interchanged because ethics is by default, an extension of morals. However, there is a thin line between the two which forms the basis of their distinction. Ethics refers to the rules that have been put in place by external parties. Therefore, professional ethics is the rules which members of a particular profession are expected to adhere to. On the other hand, morals are an individual’s own personal principles regarding what is good and bad. Morals come from within a person while ethics come from without.

Professional ethics Vs. Information ethics

Professional ethics refers to the personal, organizational and corporate code of conduct expected of a professional. (Himma, K. )Information ethics refers to the code of conduct governing the creation, organization, dissemination and use of information. Therefore, information ethics can be regarded as a sub-set of professional ethics. This is because it covers the organizational and corporate ethics dimensions of professional ethics.

Professional ethics Vs. Business ethics

As defined above, professional ethics is the personal, organizational and corporate code of conduct expected of a professional. Business ethics is a form of professional ethics that takes into perspective all the aspects of business conduct relating to individuals and the organization. It examines and deals with the moral issues that crop up in a business environment (Gavai, A.). Therefore, business ethics helps ensure that the business ethics dimension of professional ethics is upheld.

Importance of professional ethics

Professional ethics is distinctive because of the role it plays in the society. Some of these roles can be explained in the form of importance of professional ethics as seen below;

First, professional ethics helps create a sense of responsibility among professionals. This is so because professionals, in most cases, usually have information advantage over their clients. This form of information asymmetry can lead to exploitation of the client in the form of blackmail. Therefore, professional ethics plays an important role of ensuring client exploitation in the form of blackmail does not occur. It does this through developing a set of values which professionals are expected to adhere to during the course of their work. The values create a sense of professional responsibility and defiance is met with disciplinary action hence making professionals more inclined towards upholding professional ethics when dealing with clients.

Second, it helps in the timely identification of moral problems affecting an organization. A moral hazard occurs when an individual or an organization takes excessive risk because the cost of that risk is being shouldered by another party. An example in the business world would be failure of a company to install smoke detectors once the company has taken fire insurance. Professional ethics helps an organization to identify such hazards on a timely basis and come up with appropriate solutions thereof before any significant loss is experienced by the organization due to ignorance of the same.

Moreover, professional ethics helps to usher in new professionals into the business world. This is because most new professionals have no idea of what is expected of them in terms of ethics. Therefore, it gives them a guideline on what they are supposed to do as well as what they should not do. Professional ethics helps to pass on, to new professionals, wisdom which has passed the test of time.

Furthermore, professional ethics helps to keep the profession updated in terms of new laws and regulations as well as changing technologies. It helps to ensure that the profession is aligned to the new ethical challenges, terms of best practice and emerging responsibilities of professionals. This is imperative in ensuring that the profession is not using time passed codes of conduct to curb new challenges because this would be potentially disastrous.

In addition, professional ethics brings in the idea of authority. This can be illustrated by how, for example, accountants are expected to prepare financial statements based on International Financial Reporting Standards regardless of what the boss says. In such a situation, the higher governing accounting body exercises its authority and there is nothing which the boss can say to change the expectations of the body. Therefore, by extension it helps create uniformity in the corporate world whereby professionals behave in the same way regardless of the company they work in.

Finally, professional ethics plays a big role in the enforcement of rules and disciplinary measures. This is possible because there is usually a pre-determined set of codes of conduct or values which are made known to every professional. Disciplinary measures are also made public so that every professional knows the consequences of breaching the laid out code of conduct. Therefore, it is informative and no professional can plead ignorance if caught on the wrong side of the set ‘law’.

 

Reasons for holding professionals to a higher standard of ethics

  1. Professionals are already aware of the kind of conduct that is expected of them hence this makes them accountable for their behavior at all times.
  2. Professionals have a responsibility, over their clients and the society as a whole, which they have duly accepted to partake by being members of the particular profession.
  3. Professionals have a specific code of conduct which they are supposed to adhere to as opposed to the common person who has no specific set of laid out values expected of them.
  4. The word professional means a trustworthy person by default hence professionals owe it to themselves and to the society as a whole to live up to this perception.

Importance of trust in the practice of professional ethics

Ethical behavior tends to improve on trust. This is because when a professional is seen to behave ethically, clients will tend to believe in him more. They will trust his abilities to lead them in the right direction and to also help them make the right decisions.

Building trust also helps maintain good ethics. When professionals trust that an organization’s intentions are to make the best out of them, they start upholding professional ethics. This is because it helps to know that their interests are being considered. Most professionals would not like to ruin such a chance hence the reason why when they detect it they immediately start upholding professional ethics.

The two dimensions above show that professional ethics and trust are intertwined. That is, improvement of one automatically leads to improvement of the other. Deterioration in one would also lead to a deterioration of the other.

Questions of value Vs. Questions of fact

Questions of value are questions are questions whose answers depend on personal judgment on whether something is right or wrong or rather good or bad. Examples of questions of value in an Information Technology company would include;

  1. Which system will bring higher returns?
  2. What will this package achieve if it is installed?
  3. How will this system help the employees in the organization?

Questions of fact on the other hand are questions whose answers can be evidenced by facts. They are different from questions of value in that their answers are not a matter of personal judgment but rather a matter of facts. Examples of questions of fact in an Information Technology company would include;

  1. Did the system perform the task?
  2. Did the system crash?
  3. Did the Information Technology manager report to work?

 

 

Hindrances to achieving professional ethics

Attitude – Professionals have different attitudes towards the different professional ethical guidelines. When the attitude of a professional is negative, chances of achieving professional ethics are minimal (Bynum, T. p. 220). Therefore, it is imperative that professional bodies not only put across ethical guidelines that should be followed but also endeavor to explain to the professionals why adhering to those guidelines is important or beneficial.

Structural barriers – Some businesses are structured in a way which makes it difficult for professionals to exercise professional ethics. For example, while working in a small organization where a professional reports to the owner, what is ethically right might not be what pleases the owner hen the professional might be forced to act in a way that contravenes the professional code of conduct so as to please the business owner. In such cases, professional ethics can only be achieved if the owner is taught about the importance of upholding professional ethics.

Changing laws and regulations – Professional code of conduct is normally developed based on the existing laws and regulations. However, these laws and regulations change from time to time rendering some professional values redundant. Professional bodies have a responsibility of adjusting the professional code of conduct from time to time so as to ensure it reflects the new laws and regulations. Otherwise, the existing code of behavior might not work in the best interest of the profession or its clients (Bynum, T. p.219).

Moral dilemmas – This refers to the situation whereby a professional has to choose between two or more decisions but on choosing the one which yields the best result, he/she finds out that it is not in line with professional ethics hence the professional is at a loss on what to do. The professional has to make a difficult choice of either going ahead with his/her choice and facing the consequences or choosing the one that is in line with the principles of professional ethics hence achieving inferior results.

Focus on the short term benefits – Some professionals only look at the short term benefits that would accrue to them after taking on a certain activity (Bynum, T. p.221). For example, a professional might result to asking for money from a client through blackmail by threatening to use their private information against them. While the result of this could be a short term benefit in terms of money received from a client, in the long run it might be damaging to a person’s career as it could lead to being fired.

 

CASE STUDY OF GOOGLE

Google is a Multinational company in the technology sector specializing in offering internet services and products. It was formed in 1998 and is headquartered in America. In 2006, Google entered into business with China. The business involved launching a Chinese language Web site which allowed for censorship of links which the government of China did not deem fit for its people’s consumption. However, censorship was contrary to the global ethical standards which Google was bound by. For example, searching “Tiananmen Square” on the Chinese language web site would either pop up no results or some very old history. However, on searching the same topic using the same Chinese language web site while in a place like Los Angeles, information about the demonstrations of 1989 would pop up. Google started being hacked and the hackers would bring up information that was otherwise supposed to be censored. The hackers involved were from China. The hacking resulted to compromising Gmail accounts of human rights activists in China. This caused a lot of problems for Google as the Chinese government would not take it lightly. In the words of Google’s chief legal officer, ‘Google said that such events were a threat to privacy, security and global free space’. Google decided to stop censoring for the Chinese market. It instead offered China the option of accepting to take up the unfiltered search engine or alternatively let Google shut down its operations in the country. Google wanted to operate on an unfiltered such engine because it was within the law hence it protected both it and its clients.

 

Ethical issues arising from this case study

Ethical issues in this case will be discussed based on the ACM code of ethics and professional conduct.

Contribution to society and human well being

Google’s decision to censor some information for the Chinese market contradicted with this ethical principle. This is because censorship violated Chinese’s people right to information and religious freedom too. Censorship meant that people using the Chinese language web site could not access some of the information they were looking for. This is a gross violation to the right of information. Google compromised on this right the very moment it accepted to censor some links for the Chinese audience. Also giving different or filtered information to users that is incomplete information is a gross violation of the right to information.

Avoid harm to others

The ACM code of ethics and professional conduct provides that an activity should not course harm to others. In the case of Google, hacking of the Chinese language website caused harm to others through exposing their personal data to unauthorized persons. The case shows that personal identities of Gmail users were being uncovered. More specifically, the identities of human rights activists in China were being uncovered. This is harmful for the owners of such accounts because information about them could fall into the wrong hands thereby causing them physical or emotional harm and even in extreme cases death.

Honesty

Honesty is another ethical issue that crops up very boldly in Google’s case. In this case, Google was honest to the Chinese government about its intentions. Google did not try to hide the fact that it was considering shutting down its operations in China. As it would be expected, most companies would not agree to leave such a huge market just because of a few compromised users’ accounts. It is commendable that Google was actually not only honest with itself but also with the Chinese government. This is an indicator that Google values customer satisfaction before everything else including money.

Be fair and take action not to discriminate

Being fair and taking action not to discriminate is another ethical issue that arises in this case. The case indicates that China was a huge market for Google. It covered one third of Google’s market share comprising of three hundred and forty million web users. This is a huge number and most companies would not let go of it easily. In fact, most companies would not let go of it at all. However, we see that Google treated China’s case like it would have any other small market. It did not treat China favor China by continuing to offer China internet services and products just because of its huge market size.

Respect privacy of others

The issue of privacy arises in this case. This is because privacy of individuals, who used the Chinese language web site, was being compromised due to the hacking activities that were going on. Google has a responsibility of maintaining privacy and data describing its users. However, the hackers were gaining access to this information. They could also have easily passed it on to others who wanted to access it but had no hacking skills. This was looking bad for Google and Google to take some measures to protect users’ privacy. The measures Google took were to ask China to choose between having unfiltered links or Google exiting the Chinese market altogether.

 

 

Honor confidentiality

Finally, there is the issue of confidentiality in this case. Confidentiality refers to ensuring that client data is only dispatched to those authorized to handle it. However, the hacking was compromising on this code of professional ethics. The hackers from China were exposing people’s data which they obtained from illegally accessing their Gmail accounts. Google responded to this ethical issue by letting the Chinese government that Google was no longer willing to offer them censorship services anymore.

 

References

Brecher, B. (2013). ‘What is professional ethics?’. Nursing Ethics21(2), 239-244. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0969733013484485

Bynum, T. (2001). The challenge of applying ethics. Science And Engineering Ethics7(2), 219-220. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11948-001-0042-6

Gavai, A. (2010). Business ethics. Mumbai [India]: Himalaya Pub. House.

Himma, K. (2007). Information ethics. Bradford: Emerald.

Statement of Professional Ethics. (2009). Adfl, 184-186. http://dx.doi.org/10.1632/adfl.40.2.184