Saturday, June 23, 2007

Ethics Investigations

This Business Week article on an ethics investigation at Wal-Mart slides past the ethical problem of not revealing the name of a known accuser:

Ethics experts are united in their view that that any company that takes its ethics seriously has the obligation to protect the identity of whistleblowers. "Some companies think they are set up to protect whistleblowers—but then you have to rely on the leadership and character of individual managers and business units to implement them," says Thompson of Johns Hopkins.

Well, mark me down as one ethics consultant who dissents. It is one thing to investigate anonymous complaints. That should be done. It is another to shield the identity of an accuser. Not only does an investigation have the aura of unfairness if the accuser is not revealed, but the non-disclosure policy may encourage litigation in order to discover the identity. Might not a disclosure policy encourage anonymous complaints? Sure. But you make ethical decisions based on the information you possess.

The Business Week article's main theme should revolve around retaliation, not disclosure. Organizations need to take tough and intensive steps to ensure that whistleblowers are not subjected to retaliation if their ethics programs are to have any credibility.

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