By Dike Onwuamaeze
A report released by EY, a global professional services firm titled: “Is This the Moment of Truth for Corporate Integrity? Global Integrity Report 2020,” has revealed that 90 per cent of businesses surveyed believe that the COVID-19 pandemic poses a risk to ethical business conduct for organisations.
Although acting with integrity is more important now than ever before, as stated by the Global Leader Forensic & Integrity Services of EY, Mr. Andrew Gordon, the report showed that significant numbers of employees remain willing to act unethically for personal financial gain, adding, “that the pandemic is only exacerbating this by increasing the incentives and opening new avenues for them to do so.”
Notwithstanding, respondents to the main survey believed that operating with corporate integrity could create major benefits for organisations, including strengthening reputation, attracting new customers and retaining talents.
The EY stated that the research surveyed almost 3,000 respondents from 33 countries which included Nigeria, in February this year, to analyse the ethical challenges companies face in turbulent times.
Also, an additional 600 employees across all levels of seniority were surveyed at the height of the COVID-19 crisis in April in companies across six countries, namely China, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, India and the United States of America.
However, “the good news,” according to Gordon, “is that almost all respondents see the value in acting with integrity. Respondents say that they’re looking beyond short-term financial impacts of avoiding fines and penalties, to long-term values such as strengthening reputations, attracting new customers and retaining top talent.”
He added that, “COVID-19 is a test for business integrity. Those who pass will differentiate themselves as seldom before. Those who fail are likely to be held accountable after this crisis has passed for any abuse of trust by unforgiving governments, enforcement agencies, shareholders, consumers and the public at large.”
The research showed a wide disparity of perceptions of ethical behaviour between senior and junior levels an organisation as it pointed out that majority of junior employees interviewed said that they did not always trust the integrity of their leaders even though the majority of board members believed themselves to be playing by the rules.
It also showed that 43 per cent of board members think the pandemic could lead to better business ethics while only 21 per cent of junior employees agreed. Similarly, 55 per cent of board members were confidence that their management teams would demonstrate professional integrity while only 37 per cent of junior employees share the same sentiment.
“As businesses start to look beyond the COVID-19 crisis, the EY Global Integrity Report 2020 reveals divisions on the repercussions for company ethics as a result of the pandemic.
“In addition, over half of board members (55 per cent) believe there are managers in their organisation who would sacrifice integrity for short term gain,” the report said.
Furthermore, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority (53 per cent) of junior employees were not very confident that their management would abide by relevant laws, codes of conduct and industry regulations. In addition, 13 per cent of all respondents appeared prepared to ignore ethical misconduct by third parties to boost their career or pay, with the figure rising to 20 per cent among board members.
“More board members and senior management (12 per cent) said they would be willing to accept a bribe, compared to junior employees (three per cent). Furthermore, 14 per cent of board directors and 15 per cent of senior managers would be willing to mislead external parties such as regulators,” the report stated.
The EY Nigeria Forensic and Integrity Services Leader, Mr. Linus Osita Okeke, said: “It is worrisome that many company personnel indicated lack of knowledge or awareness about data protection. This underscores the need for organisations to embark on robust awareness campaign on data protection, especially in the light of emerging data protection regulation such as Nigeria Data Protection Regulation 2019.”