The power of ethics

BY SHELLY ANN MOHAMMED

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

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This year, Global Ethics Day fell during our quarter three brand theme on the Power of Ethics.

This campaign aims to highlight the world-leading power of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) Qualification in developing professional accountants with the commitment and understanding of the wider aspects of ethics and business.

It also emphasises to our students, members, partners and other stakeholders to recognise their critical role in preparing for and responding to changing global trends in this area.

ACCA has celebrated Global Ethics Day for a number of years, partnering with the Carnegie Council to highlight ethics and the accountancy profession.

The history of ethics goes back centuries. Over this time, ethics has developed several schools of thought, with philosophies and religions based on ethical beliefs and theories. And these resonate into our modern age. People have identified different ways of thinking about 'doing the right thing.'

For professionals like accountants — or lawyers or doctors — ethics is an important part of a professional's training and practice. Essentially, ethical behaviour protects the public, and it also maintains the reputation of many professions.

Today, consumers and governments are sharpening their focus on ethical and sustainability issues. Buying habits are changing. Regulations are tightening. And businesses are under increasing scrutiny about their impact on society from the media, consumers, governments and their own employees.

Digital advances such as the use of artificial inteligence (AI) have introduced new ethical complexities to the ever-changing business world — and businesses must identify and manage these to survive.

The profession has to be ready to lead the ethical debate on all this change, and use its leading knowledge in ethical issues, combined with a wider view of business success that covers financial, ethical, digital and sustainability issues.

ACCA is at the leading edge of this change, working with our partners to equip our students and members with the right tools, skills and knowledge to succeed.

Ethics and professionalism is essentially about doing the right thing. Now, the urgency is steadily intensifying to make good decisions to address the world's climate emergency.

Climate Week was held in New York in late September alongside the United Nations Climate Summit, and at the start of the week at a joint event co-hosted with International Federation of Accountants (IFAC), called 'Creating Value in a Climate Emergency', ACCA launched its new report called Social and Environmental Value Creation.

This report calls for more concerted action to deal with the challenges of social and environmental value creation.

It examines the role of business in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, which are under increasing focus from investors and society. It also assesses the current state of corporate disclosures on key social and environmental issues in different regions around the world and outlines five disclosure and decision-making approaches that can support business to create inclusive and sustainable value for society over the long-term.

It's publication comes when businesses are being called on to meet increasing requirements from governments for better social and environmental performance, and respond more proactively to greater demands for more precise environmental, social and governance disclosures from investors. Business is now operating in a volatile environmental landscape in crisis and escalating social problems.

Taken together, these provide businesses around the world with a range of relevant approaches with which to engage. For professional accountants and finance teams, their involvement in these activities is essential.

There's just 10 years left to achieve 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, which are becoming better understood by governments, business, investors and civil society as tools to improve economies' inclusivity and sustainable prosperity.

Governments and regulators are asking businesses to better manage their social and environmental impacts to support sustainable prosperity creation. Citizens are asking their governments to do more to protect the environment and resolve societal issues. Customers are also asking business and finance to do this. New products and services must be both socially and environmentally aware if they are to succeed.

Professional accountants and finance teams can support social and environmental value creation in many ways with their existing skill set and by reaching out across their own organisations. By interacting with wider stakeholders on complex challenges, they will be able to speed up the urgently needed transition to a more socially just and environmentally aware future for the global economy.

Our report says that the global economy is entering a new era where social and environmental issues are strategic to all activities undertaken by business.

This report sets out that the challenges are immense, complex and urgent. But it has also shown how value creation can be realised with the use of existing tools and processes that build on established foundations. They require a shift in values and mindsets by business and a new set of skills for finance teams. And, if supported with a better institutional infrastructure, it is likely that managing to exist with the changes to the planet caused by climate change and providing socially just and sustainable livelihoods to current and future generations will be within reach.

The level of engagement with these issues by business and finance will determine the quality of life for people and other species. A choice has to be made, and perhaps now is the time more than ever when the ethical, sustainable choice has to be made decisively. Now is the time to be 'doing the right thing'.

Shelly Ann Mohammed is head of ACCA Caribbean.


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