Earlier this week, FoxNews carried a story concerning the United Nations Ethics Office, specifically regarding the Voluntary Disclosure provision set up in 2006 by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. According to the FoxNews story, fewer than half of the senior UN officials affected by the voluntary disclosure provision have actually posted their financial statements to the disclosure website to date.
This disclosure website, with a line of accountability to the UN Ethics Office, is highly commendable in that it illustrates the “tone from the top” mentality and practice deemed necessary for a successful and effective ethics initiative. The UN SG urged compliance, but did not mandate it. In fact, officials can “opt-out” of the provision and still be considered compliant. All in all, these disclosure measures are a very good start. Ban stated that the provision would ensure that, “[UN] staff members will not be influenced by any consideration associated with his/her private interests.”
More and more, institutions are seeing the benefits of corporate transparency in their ethics initiatives. True, the UN is somewhat unique because of its size and influence in the world as it carries out a multitude of humanitarian and peacekeeping efforts. It is also unique in that it is a not-for-profit organization – its sole purpose is to insure the continuation of the UN Charter for every generation. But this makes the UN a perfect example of how a strong ethical culture is more than words, more than just a saying – it has to be part of their DNA. Without strong ethics, the UN would lose the trust of its members.
Often, it’s difficult to know when you have true transparency in your ethics & compliance programs – in your executive memos, policies, your awareness and communications programs, your hotline information, follow-up reports, etc. But, it’s almost always apparent when your initiatives lack transparency – when they possess, as the FoxNews story said about the opt-out declaration, “opaque transparency.” Those dark areas are what draw the eye and can lead to an undermining of your ethical standing.