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Difference Between Code of Ethics and Code of Conduct

Code of Ethics vs Code of Conduct

Of late, there has been a lot of talk about codes of ethics and codes of conduct. As their names suggest, codes of ethics have a weighing upon decisions made by individuals and companies, whereas codes of conduct have a bearing upon actions taken by individuals as well as organizations. The confusion between the two is because of similarities in conduct that is deemed acceptable by law and ethics that is acceptable to the society. This article attempts to highlight differences between codes of ethics and codes of conduct to make a clearer understanding.

There are many instances when actions taken by individuals or organizations are well within the written law and its spirit, though such actions may be looked down upon by the society. For example, a man marrying his cousin may be permissible by law, but certainly goes against codes of ethics that is set by the society, not the law of the land. In the western world, abortion is one act that is allowed by the law, but if you ask any church official, he will decry abortion as against humanity.

In any organization, there are codes of conduct that are written rules and regulations about how employees have to behave in different circumstances. Thus, if smoking is not allowed inside the premises of a company, but an employee finds himself in a situation when no one is around, and there is no chance of him being caught by any sensor or camera, it is his decision not to smoke that comes within the purview of code of ethics and not code of conduct.

We have examples of celebrities who have declined lucrative offers from companies to advertise their products even after there was no legal prohibition to do so. If a cricketing super star says he will not advertise for products like alcoholic drinks or other such products, it is not that he is being stopped by law but his own code of ethics that prevents him from advertising for products that are unfit or hazardous for people and he carries the responsibility of being a role model of millions of people.

In terms of business environments, code of ethics are decisions that are taken by founders of the company, and have become guiding force for the employees who follow them in letter and spirit. If a company is founded with the declared intention of working towards saving the environment, it is only natural that its employees will think green in all circumstances. On the other hand, there have been instances where profit motive has dominated in companies with disregard to wishes of stakeholders that has ultimately led to failure of the company.

What’s the difference between Code of Ethics and Code of Conduct?

• Codes of conduct are rules and regulations that are to be followed strictly by the employees of a company, and could lead to their removal if they show disregard to these codes.

• Codes of ethics are behaviors or actions that are unwritten rules and regulations, and their violation is frowned upon by the company, though not prohibited under law.

• Codes of ethics are not specific, and their violation leads to no punishment, though they are expected to be followed

• Codes of conduct require strict adherence, or one has to incur penalty


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