Unveiling the Paradox of Corporate Code of Conduct: A Reflection on Ethical Challenges


In the wake of the recent TCS #bribeforjobs scandal, which extends beyond the traditional government sphere and questions the efficacy of corporate codes of conduct, a profound inquiry emerges.

Does the corporate code truly shape behavior in organizations?

Intriguingly, these ethical quandaries often originate from within the HR departments, undermining the foundation of the system. It is akin to a police chief engaging in criminal activities, leading to a collapse of the entire framework.

During my tenure at a Tata Company, despite my marketing leadership role, I assumed the role of an ethics counsellor. This occurred when our HR Head violated the TCOC, resulting in his expulsion from the organization. Rather than dwelling on that specific case, it raised a fundamental question: When individuals in positions of power succumb to the temptation of monetary gains, the consequences are dire. When such illicit gains reach exorbitant levels, it erodes personal values and fosters an insatiable greed that ultimately jeopardizes the entire system.

The overarching challenge lies in upholding the value system upon which the code of conduct is based, encompassing integrity, unity, responsibility, excellence, and pioneering. While these ideals are commendable, their practical application and adherence can be arduous. Once they are compromised, one must acknowledge being compromised themselves.

Upholding the value system demands resolute integrity. For instance, how often have individuals resisted bribing traffic police officers when caught red-handed, despite teaching their children to always uphold truthfulness and avoid bribery? How frequently do individuals flout traffic regulations in the absence of surveillance, risking the lives of fellow citizens? How often do individuals contact subordinates whom they know are driving, providing office instructions despite the inherent risks involved?

Let us challenge some of the principles set forth by the code of conduct:

We do not tolerate bribery or corruption in any form. This commitment underpins everything that we do.

The challenge lies in the existence of government ecosystems where bribery remains prevalent. Organizations may disavow direct involvement in these ecosystems by making payments indirectly through consultants or agents. Although such transactions may appear clean on their books, they nonetheless constitute bribery within the ecosystem, where the agent’s sole value lies in managing these illicit transactions. Will organizations forsake business opportunities or opt for these compromised partnerships?

We are committed to good corporate citizenship. We treat social development activities that benefit the communities in which we operate.

The challenge arises when organizations selectively highlight and claim credit for social development activities, often as part of their PR efforts. For instance, advocating for the protection of stray animals poses a classic dilemma:

Who should decide whether animals should be kept as pets, considering the removal from their natural habitats? Moreover, how is protecting one species considered a social cause while consuming another species is deemed a personal choice?

When individuals enjoy tea at local stalls served by child laborers, what actions do organizations take regarding these extended ecosystems?

We shall not compromise safety in the pursuit of commercial advantage. We shall strive to provide a safe, healthy, and clean working environment for our employees and all those who work with us.

The challenge lies in the tendency of purchase teams to prioritize swift delivery, thereby pressuring logistics companies to engage in reckless driving, endangering lives. Although implementing checklists and fire safety measures is commendable, the degree to which these practices are ingrained in the DNA of visitors and employees remains uncertain.

When organizations provide a clean working environment, do employees’ key result areas include initiatives like tree planting? After all, compromises may have been made to achieve that pristine environment.

There is a widely circulated video highlighting the conflict between vegan and non-vegetarian diets. Traditional beliefs surrounding veganism, such as the importation of avocados and other specialty foods that burn significant amounts of fossil fuel, inadvertently contribute to environmental degradation.

We shall provide avenues for our stakeholders to raise concerns or queries in good faith or report instances of actual or perceived violations of our Code.

The challenge lies in the perception that complainants may be viewed as troublemakers in the long run, potentially jeopardizing their careers. In a small world, whistle-blowers and RTI activists face threats to their lives, raising doubts about the true efficacy of these avenues.

We expect the leaders of our businesses to demonstrate their commitment to the ethical standards set out in this Code through their own behavior and by establishing appropriate processes within their companies.

The challenge lies in the projection of leaders, often portrayed in the media as paragons of virtue and saviors of humanity. However, as the adage goes, “karma pays back,” and true colors are eventually revealed. Raju from Satyam and Chanda Kochhar from ICICI serve as stark reminders of the power of greed within the corporate realm.

Until then, it is good to have an ethical code of conduct, but how well it gets implemented is the question.

@Codeofconduct @tatacompanies @tcs @rntata2000

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