Ethics Unwrapped Blog

Integrity

Integrity, said author C.S. Lewis, “is doing the right thing, even when no one is looking.”  Integrity is a foundational moral virtue, and the bedrock upon which good character is built.

Acting with integrity means understanding, accepting, and choosing to live in accordance with one’s principles, which will include honesty, fairness, and decency. A person of integrity will consistently demonstrate good character by being free of corruption and hypocrisy.

Integrity is revealed when people act virtuously regardless of circumstance or consequences. This often requires moral courage. Indeed, integrity is the critical connection between ethics and moral action.

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Fiduciary Duty

A fiduciary duty is the legal responsibility to act solely in the best interest of another party.

“Fiduciary” means trust, and a person with a fiduciary duty has a legal obligation to maintain that trust. For example, lawyers have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interest of their clients. Similarly, physicians have a duty to care for, and act in, the best interest of their patients. Likewise, trustees have a duty to manage the assets of a trust for its beneficiaries, and directors to manage corporate assets in the best interest of shareholders.

Some examples of fiduciary duties include duties of undivided loyalty, due diligence and reasonable care, full disclosure of any conflicts of interest, and confidentiality.

While a fiduciary duty may be violated accidentally, it is still a breach of ethics. And to most people, an intentional violation of fiduciary duty is considered especially treacherous.

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Conflict of Interest

A conflict of interest arises when what is in a person’s best interest is not in the best interest of another person or organization to which that individual owes loyalty.

For example, an employee may simultaneously help himself but hurt his employer by taking a bribe to purchase inferior goods for his company’s use.

A conflict of interest can also exist when a person must answer to two different individuals or groups whose needs are at odds with each other. In this case, serving one individual or group will injure the other.

In business and law, having a “fiduciary responsibility” to someone is known as having a “duty of loyalty.” For example, auditors owe a duty of loyalty to investors who rely upon the financial reports that the auditors certify. But auditors are hired and paid directly by the companies whose reports they review. The duty of loyalty an auditor owes to investors can be at odds with the auditor’s need to keep the company – its client – happy, as well as with the company’s desire to look like a safe investment.

So, those of us who wish to be ethical people must consciously avoid situations where we benefit ourselves by being disloyal to others.

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Corruption

Corruption is the abuse of power or position for personal gain. There are many forms of corruption, including bribery, embezzlement, and extortion. (more…)

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