Drafting and Launching a Multinational Employer’s Global Code of Conduct
“According to the International Labour Organisation, "corporate codes of conduct do not have any authorized definition.... [T]here is a great variance in the way these statements are drafted." ”
Indeed, "code of conduct" is not a term of art, but is merely a label affixed to a range of corporate and non-governmental-organization policies.
Most major multinationals, particularly those based in the US, seem to have issued a global conduct code that spells out certain rules applicable to their worldwide operations. These global codes of conduct vary substantially in both purpose and content. Moreover, the focus and content of these codes differs widely. But global codes of conduct do not always do what their issuers intend.
Many corporate policies called "codes of conduct" have little to do with employment relationships: There are professional-association antitrust compliance codes of conduct, environmental-protection codes of conduct, and advisory codes of conduct on topics like intellectual property and computer programming. These codes - while vital - are only loosely connected to global efforts at legal and ethical human resources compliance.
Anchoring the code of conduct discussion in the international employment context, there are two very different types of codes to distinguish: External supplier codes chiefly protect employees working for a multinational's suppliers from so-called "sweatshop" conditions; whereas internal ethics codes chiefly impose compliance rules on a multinational's own employees across its worldwide workforces. In one sense, these two global codes of conduct are opposites: External supplier codes seek to protect employees who are not on the code issuer's payroll, while internal ethics codes seek to restrict (impose rules on) a code issuer's own employees. Some multinational codes of conduct try to combine these two types of document, but effectively combining them is difficult because both the goals and the intended audiences differ.
As such, any multinational launching a global "code of conduct" should: first clarify which type of code it needs, then determine what the code of conduct should say, and finally implement the code properly across global operations. As such, part 1 of this article distinguishes the two types of codes of conduct, part 2 is a checklist of topics to address in an internal ("ethics") code of conduct, and part 3 addresses the steps in properly launching a multinational's internal code of conduct.
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Author - Lynsey Calver
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