Issue 32: May 2019
The lead articles in this issue of Setting the Example explore two crucial issues: the view that corporate South Africa can, and should, make a far greater contribution to the country’s ethical status and the importance of ethical leadership in our society. Adding to these topics are the statistics on CEO ethical lapses and our recommended reading which offers insight into how to design an ethical organisation. This issue also addresses the problem of NDAs being used to silence whistleblowers. And we are very pleased to share our news about the formation of the Ethics Expert Panel, and would be pleased to hear from you should these services be relevant for our organisation.

Cynthia Schoeman, Angela Cherrington and Dr Janette Minnaar have established the Ethics Expert Panel. This brings together Cynthia’s in-depth work in the area of workplace ethics and ethics assessment with Angela’s governance expertise as the former CEO of the IoDSA and Janette’s legal experience as an advocate and founder of ProEthics.

One of the services we offer is an Annual Ethics Action Plan. A unique element of this is an Ethics Implementation intervention. This adds to the goal of promoting ethical conduct with a focus on the practical implementation and embedding of ethical standards in the functional areas of managers. Ethics Implementation takes the form of workshops within key functional areas – for example, finance, procurement, HR – where we assist managers and staff to identify where and how ethics should be incorporated into their daily practices and duties. It includes short follow-up sessions to review and provide input on their progress, which serves to encourage real change.


South Africa’s slide from the rainbow nation to the current dire state of ethics continues to be chronicled by the various Commissions of Inquiry. Much of that evidence has revealed that private companies played an equally destructive role in the country’s plunder – whether in being a party to the corruption or, in the case of many professional services, in facilitating the corruption. Therefore, claiming that the present state of affairs falls exclusively on government’s shoulders is neither a sound excuse nor plausible reason. Instead there is an ethical obligation on every single corporate in South Africa to make a contribution to uplifting our country’s ethical status. Read more…



The importance of ethical leadership was well articulated by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng in a recent radio interview and reinforced by the open letter that 28 civil society organisations wrote to the newly elected Members of Parliament and Members of the National Council of Provinces. This raises the questions of what constitutes ethical leadership and, crucially, what is necessary to give effect to ethical and effective leadership. Read more…



While trust is widely regarded as an optimal outcome of sound ethics and governance, this does not mean that the term isn’t used in a variety of ways. "Trust but verify" is such an example. The phrase, originally a Russian proverb, was made famous by former US President, Ronald Reagan. On the advice of Suzanne Massie, the President’s adviser on Russian affairs, Reagan used it in December 1987 after the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the Soviet Union. And, apparently to Gorbachev’s irritation, he used it repeatedly thereafter.

While it is a pithy phrase that was arguably apt for that situation, it does raise interesting questions. If you trust, why would you insist on verifying and, conversely, that if you insist on verifying, do you really trust?
Consider instead the perspective, applicable across all sectors of the economy, that trust is the primary currency that needs to be protected, preserved and grown.



Strategy&, PwC’s strategy consulting business, has been analysing CEO succession at the world’s largest 2,500 public companies for 19 years. Their latest CEO Success study reveals not only that CEO turnover was at a record high of 17% in 2018, but that there was also an increase in the number of CEOs found guilty of ethical lapses. The study showed that in 2018 39% of CEOs were forced out for ethical lapses rather than financial performance or board struggles, an increase from 26% in 2017.

Using NDAs to silence whistleblowers
Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) are regularly used to protect confidential information and trade secrets. However, these are being increasingly abused and used instead to silence employees reporting criminal behaviour, harassment or discrimination.

Two recent articles present interesting perspectives on this topic. The Guardian article by Caroline Davies reflects the UK’s stance of proposed changes to the law to avoid the unethical use of NDAs. Jeff John Roberts’ article in Fortune looks at how common these are in the tech world in the US: “At companies like Google, Apple, and Amazon, every low-level employee or contractor is expected to sign an NDA, and so are vendors and visitors”. The fact that “anyone who talks too much …may be sued” has the effect that “these agreements have the effect of terrorizing people”.



Recommended reading: How to design an ethical organization
By Nicholas Epley & Amit Kumar, Harvard Business Review, May-June 2019

Acknowledging that corporate scandals continue to occur, the authors suggest that organisations need to move beyond legalistic compliance programmes to recognise that creating an ethical culture warrants thinking about ethics as a design problem. The authors recommend four ways to promote an ethical culture.
  • Connect ethical principles to strategies and policies
  • Keep ethics top of mind
  • Reward ethical behaviour through a variety of incentives
  • Encourage ethical norms in day-to-day practices.

About Ethics Monitoring & Management Services (Pty) Ltd

Ethics Monitoring & Management Services was started by Cynthia Schoeman to help organisations to improve ethics in the workplace and to encourage them to manage ethics proactively. Cynthia developed The Ethics Monitor, a web-based ethics survey, which enables organisations to measure, monitor and report on their ethical status. Ethics Monitoring & Management Services also offers ethics talks, workshop, consulting and training.

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Contact us

Cynthia Schoeman
Managing Director
Ethics Monitoring & Management
Services (Pty) Ltd
011 447 7661; 082 821 3729

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