What is ethics in the time of crisis?

The world as we know it has suddenly changed. And we all wonder what it will look like when we get ‘out on the other side’ and when that will happen. One thing that we do know is that the meaning of solidarity, integrity and ethics may need to be recalibrated. In times of crisis we may tamper on others, forget the greater good and that we will have face the consequences from our decisions, even if they are done in exceptional circumstances. Those of you who know me know that I like to say ‘what is legal is not always the right thing to do’ and this is truer than ever when the concept of ‘legal’ and ‘rights’ are put to test. When there is a crisis there is a risk for that basic processes of due care and compliance are forgotten or worse, seen as an unnecessary evil.

National emergency supply IN FINLAND…

We do have a recent example from Finland, where it seems like the national emergency supply agency failed to apply even the basic due diligence. In the midst of ensuring vital national supply, there is now also a scandal with mangers terminated or suspended and a conflict between a beauty and escort service entrepreneur and a micro credit entrepreneur with poor financial and foreclosure records. Ethics and compliance should always be an enabler for good business and in general this is exactly what we believe here in the Nordics.

Nordic Business Ethics Pulse

In the recent Nordic Business Ethics Pulse* we asked the respondents about how they believe that ethical business conduct will develop during the next year and the next five years. In general, we do believe that ethical business will increase, with some notable differences between the countries. The Danes have the most positive outlook regarding ethical business development, whereas the Swedes are most sceptical. In Denmark and Finland some 30 % believe that ethical business conduct will increase during the coming year, compared to 24 % in Norway and 16 % in Sweden. The most common response was that it at least would remain unchanged with Denmark 47%, Finland 36%, Norway 46 % and Sweden 44 %. Over a five-year horizon the outlook was not much different, apart from a slight shift from the remain unchanged category to the increase category.

Nordic Average response: Nordic Business Ethics Pulse 2020, enabled by Forensic Risk Alliance

In addition, there seem to be a positive tune within the younger generation (18-24 year olds), where 38 % believed that ethical business would increase during the upcoming year, compared to some 23 % in the other age categories (25-34, 35-49 and 50+). The employees with less than two years in working life were also most positive, with 39 % believing that ethical business would increase during the next year compared to some 23 % in the other categories (3-10, 11-25 and 25+). In general, persons working in a leading position (28 % believe ethical business will increase) and persons working in a publicly listed company (36 % believe ethical business will increase) were more positive than workers (23 % say ethical business will increase) and persons working in the public sector (21 % believe ethical business will increase).

Is there a trade-off between crisis management and compliance?

All these expectations are positive, but are they true in this current environment? How do we manage the conflicts between managing a crisis and doing so responsibly? Is there a trade-off between crisis management and compliance? At least from a regulatory standpoint there is in general no such thing as a ‘crisis’ defence and companies and organisations will need to continue to secure that laws are not violated in the midst of the current turbulent environment. This pose challenges for legal and compliance teams, especially in a world where most are working remotely and no one really can predict what supply and demand will look like in the future. Nevertheless, we have to keep the flag high, and need to continue to spot and tackle red flags – otherwise, how will our business environment look like in a year or five years?

Join us in webinar on April 22

The Nordic Business Ethics Network is hosting a webinar ‘Compliance Trends’ together with Hannes Snellman on April 22 @9am CET. In the webinar we elaborate on these topics together with the compliance expert Maria Wasastjerna. Hope to ‘see’ many of you online!

* Nordic Business Ethics Pulse was conducted in the end of February 2020 on 4.000 respondents by TNS Kantar, the respondents were equally distributed from Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden.