Tech companies, as the clear beneficiaries of digital acceleration, must take responsibility for their actions and proactively address Ethical concerns. Establishing an in-house ethics committee is a step in the right direction.
The tech industry often touts the positive impact of technology on society but is less willing to acknowledge the potential negative consequences. This should not be the case. Companies of all sizes are responsible for mitigating any adverse impacts their technology may have.
It’s understandable to have scepticism about taking on this responsibility. In the past, tech companies have relied on large tech giants and political leaders to set the Ethical standard. However, as the tech industry continues to evolve, all companies need to take a more active role in shaping Ethical standards.
Creating an in-house ethics committee not only allows a company to do the right thing but can also improve its reputation among future employees. It’s time for tech companies to step up and take responsibility for their actions.
Creating An Ethics Committee
An ethics committee is a cross-functional initiative designed to address any Ethical concerns within a company. At its core, it is a group of individuals who serve as a moral compass to guide decision-making at all levels of the organization. While ethics committees have existed in other industries for some time, they are a relatively new concept in the tech world.
One example of an ethics committee is the AI Ethical team at Google. Despite a high-profile scandal in 2021, the concept has proven effective. Google’s cloud unit, for example, rejected a client’s proposal to use AI in lending decisions. Similarly, IBM rejected a proposal for advanced facial recognition software, and Microsoft placed strict limitations on mimicking voices in their software.
While AI-related dilemmas may seem like science fiction, the concept of an ethics committee can be applied to more everyday issues. For example, a company may be asked to develop a mobile app that promotes unhealthy habits, such as excessive gambling. Another company may be invited to consult on a project that is not environmentally friendly or approached by a company with a questionable business model, such as spreading fake news.
As a CEO, the question is whether to pursue potential business opportunities or pass on them, knowing that your employees are watching. At WTA Studios, we have learned that the latter is the more responsible course of action. An ethics committee can help guide decision-making, ensuring that a company is always doing the right thing.
Effective Ethics Committee Management: Best Practices
The B Corp Declaration of Interdependence states that businesses should strive to do no harm and benefit through their products, practices, and profits. To create a sustainable world for current and future generations, ensuring that our work has no negative impact is essential. Ethics committees can play a crucial role in this endeavour, but they must be set up and managed correctly.
Here are some tips to keep in mind when running an ethics committee:
Clearly define the scope of responsibilities and authority for the committee and its members. The committee should be able to assist with the following:
- Day-to-day operations (evaluating incoming Ethical concerns)
- Consulting (providing recommendations and guidelines for decision-making)
- Strategy (identifying interdependencies and significant global Ethical challenges and the company’s role in addressing them)
Create a safe environment for committee members to express their concerns without fear of negative consequences.
Make it clear that the committee is an advisor to the decision-making body, and its role is to bring up all aspects and make recommendations, not make decisions.
Be bold and establish clear no-go policies. Many Ethical discussions can be contentious, so setting boundaries is helpful. For example, you may select a policy to exclude companies in specific industries, such as tobacco or non-renewable energy, from your prospect list.
Go beyond the obvious. Sustainable development challenges go beyond clear no-go lists—Challenge industries, business models, and products that contribute to climate change.
It’s important to remember that employees are watching and want to work for companies that align with their values. In today’s competitive job market, ethics can be a deciding factor in attracting and retaining top talent.
Pooja SriramJanuary 13, 2023
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