According to the Ethics & Compliance Initiative (ECI), a code of ethics is a document that lays out an organization’s values, ideals and standards and serves as a guide to honest, ethical behaviour for organization members.
ECI defines a code of conduct as a list of rules for behaviour that members of the organization must follow to avoid disciplinary action. However, they note that, in practice, the terms “code of conduct” and “code of ethics” are often used interchangeably.
A code of practice is defined in the Dictionary of Civil Society, Philanthropy and the Third Sector as an agreement on expected conduct within an organization, professional association or other group. The Dictionary notes that “code of practice” and “code of ethics” are often used as synonyms.
While these definitions can certainly be helpful, ultimately what matters is that the organization decide to formalize its principles and values and to encourage its staff, suppliers, partners and other third parties to adhere to these values in all of their activities.
Whether your ethics and compliance document is entitled “Code of Ethics,” “Code of Conduct,” “Ethics Policy,” or something else altogether, what is important is that it lay the foundations for an ethical workplace culture within your organization (what is often referred to as “setting the tone at the top”).