Ethics is a system of moral values or a set of principles for doing right that have been adopted by a person or a profession or the study of such systems. In the world of business, an ethics program can refer to a degree program, probably in philosophy, that a candidate for an undergraduate degree might have completed either prior to entering business school or applying for a job or, alternatively, a concentration that a Master of Business Administration (MBA) candidate might choose or a required course or set of courses in such a program. Ethics program could also refer to a company’s or government department’s institutionalized approach to ethics, with such programs often being referred to explicitly as “The Ethics Program.”
In an MBA ethics program, some course titles are likely to reflect the ethics focus explicitly with courses that focus on the relationship of ethics to corporate responsibility, and how business ethics operate in an international business environment. Other courses — for example, ones that consider corruption, the social impact of business decisions, human rights, or globalization — will necessarily include ethics, but its application to the subject will be revealed through the course material. Since “ethics program” is an English term, it is difficult to know how widespread the ethics education of this type might be elsewhere, there are ethics programs available internationally for young people thinking of pursuing careers in business.
In business, an ethics program can refer to a process and a set of guidelines for living up to the company values of how to do business. Such a program is likely to offer employees an explanation of the values the company holds and steps to take if an employee has a question about whether they’re being met or how to meet them in a particular situation. In a well-thought out program, attention will be given to dealing with tricky cases, such as issues with one’s supervisor. Other details of the program — such as whether reports can be anonymous, the timeframe in which they will be dealt with, the range of consequences that may result from a violation of the company values, and the security of their report — are likely to be included.
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In a government agency, the approach to ethics is more complicated, including policies, laws, and regulations. There are likely to be specific training and forms to do with topics like activities involving foreign entities, copyright and publication issues, and gift exceptions — such as an honorary degree, conflicts of interest, and financial disclosure.