Not a day goes by that chief compliance or chief risk officers are not thinking about the risks of an “ethics-related crisis” and how such an event would impact their business and public perception of their brand.

Detailed corporate compliance programs with clear whistle-blowing and conflicts of interest policies, along with independent review mechanisms, are now commonplace in companies of all sizes across the globe.

As its very first act of 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives attempted to ease ethical oversight of its own members. Had the House voted to limit the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), it would have effectively eliminated independent oversight of that key legislative body. “The OCE’s mission is to assist the U.S. House in upholding high ethical standards with an eye toward increasing transparency and providing information to the public,” its website says. And then the U.S. Senate initially tried to push through some of President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees without their first having been vetted by the Office of Government Ethics. Whereas the private sector, and public sector bodies around the world, are increasingly embracing transparency and independent oversight, Congress seems to be taking a different and more lenient approach.

As a global professional body qualifying professionals that work across sectors of the built environment, RICS views ethics as the foundation of professionalism and critical to ensuring public confidence.

Because of its deep concern about this issue, RICS is a founding member of the International Ethics Standards Coalition (IESC), which has developed and published a universal set of International Ethical Standards for real estate and related professionals. The coalition has more than 100 partners and private and government supporters from around the world all stating a commitment to transparency and ethical practices.

When questionable ethical practices arise, the impact can reach much further than a specific industry or organization.

Looking at Brazil as a recent example, despite the promise and potential present earlier this decade, the South American giant was hit with a series of corruption and ethics scandals. With the implications of these scandals reaching the highest level of government and the private sector, Brazil is still working to regain the trust of the public and the international business community.
The House’s attempt to significantly weaken oversight of itself, plus an initial push by the Senate to confirm key nominees without sufficient ethics vetting, are sending a signal to the rest of Washington, and the nation, that ethics is negotiable. In a world as complex as ours where facts have become moving targets, ethical principles and the notion of independent oversight cannot be relegated to mere relativity.

RICS believes that a similar serious commitment to ethics must underpin activity in all spheres – economic, political and social – especially since our world is so very interconnected. With a new Congress already underway and a new Administration about to take office, ethics must be at the forefront of the public sphere.

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