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Governance: ethics programs need work, Deloitte finds.

Research from Deloitte & Touche LLP finds that while most companies have taken the initial steps toward establishing a code of ethics, a limited number are actively monitoring adherence to the programs. Drawing from a detailed questionnaire sent to 5,000 directors of the top 4,000 publicly traded companies, Deloitte determined that 83 percent of responding firms have established formal codes of ethics and conduct, yet 25 percent are not actively monitoring compliance.

Further slippage can be seen in the allocation of resources to ethics activities. Only 55 percent said their company had an ethics officer (either full- or part-time). However, more than 95 percent of companies said their code of ethics applied to every member of their organization, including senior management and board members.

"Our data shows that there are several business and operational challenges facing many companies who are working towards implementing ethics and compliance programs," said Sherrie McAvoy, National Director of Corporate Compliance and Ethics Consulting at Deloitte. "We believe that these challenges are not insurmountable, and that corporate ethics initiatives will continue to gain momentum."

According to the survey, the following issues are among those affecting the implementation and sustainability of successful ethics and compliance programs:

* Communication -- Slightly more than half of the respondents address ethics and compliance issues with their board only when failure happens. At that point, the board is forced to react to failures rather than mitigate or prevent them. Additionally, 90 percent of the companies include shareholders, suppliers, customers and others in their codes, but only 52 percent of the participants actually distribute the code to these parties.

* Reporting Mechanism -- Fewer than 35 percent of the companies surveyed report that an outside, third party manages their whistleblower help lines. Companies that don't use third parties may encounter challenges with the anonymity requirements of Sarbanes-Oxley. Deloitte expects that in-house-managed help lines may become a thing of the past.

Of those organizations that have help lines, regardless of whether they are managed internally or by a third party, only 5.9 percent reported receiving calls in excess of 1 percent of the employee population. This indicates that the help lines may not be promoted effectively, or that people are uncomfortable using them.

* Training -- Two-thirds of the respondents said their company supports ethics and compliance programs through ongoing training. While training is essential, it does not have to be expensive or extensive.

The survey was jointly conducted by Deloitte and Corporate Board Member magazine. It is available on Deloitte's Web site at www.deloitte.com/us/ethicssurvey.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:BusinessBriefs
Author:Heffes, Ellen M.
Publication:Financial Executive
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2004
Words:422
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