On Friday, 8 September 2017, a group of people gathered in a medium-sized meeting room at Discovery’s headquarters in Sandton. No fanfare belied the auspiciousness of the occasion; no flashy marketing hinted at the calibre of attendees. In fact, the opposite is true: the launch of the Ethics Practitioners’ Association (EPA) was understated in every way.
It would be a mistake, though, to conclude that this was not a historically significant moment. Let’s pause to glance back at the steps that preceded and set the stage for it:
- 2000: The Ethics Institute (then EthicsSA) opened its doors with a mandate to conduct research into, and provide services in support of, organisational ethics in South Africa.
- 2004: The first Ethics Officer Certification Programme (EOCP) was presented to eight participants.
- 2011: The South African Companies Act (of 2008) introduced the Social and Ethics Committee as a mandatory board committee, raising the status of ethics as a priority for the highest level of leadership in companies.
- 2011: The Integrity Management Framework was introduced in the public sector, requiring all public entities to establish an ethics function and/or appoint ethics officers.
- 2016: King IV enshrined that “the governing body should lead ethically and effectively” as its first principle, building on the increasing emphasis on ethics in prior iterations of the Code.
- 2017: The Ethics Institute certified the 750th Ethics Officer to successfully complete the EOCP.
In a nutshell, the advent of a professional body for ethics practitioners represents a major milestone in the maturation of ethics management as a professional competence in South Africa and Africa. As Prof Deon Rossouw remarked in his presentation at the launch, “the time is absolutely right” for the EPA to enter the world and offer a professional home to the now over 750 Certified Ethics Officers working across the African continent.
Mark Lamberti, CEO of Imperial Holdings and a Director at Business Leadership South Africa, spoke to the gathering about the importance of living moral lives, and stressed that the responsibility to conduct business ethically has never been “a more urgent and onerous responsibility”. Lamberti hoped that the EPA would play a role in setting a positive example for the millions of South Africans who are not corrupt, who are doing honest work, who are in dire need of better role models. It was an important and rousing message.
As The Ethics Institute, we wish to publicly state that we support the EPA and wholeheartedly endorse its vision. We played a key role in its establishment and are not in competition with it. The two entities have different, but complementary, purposes. We wish to commend EPA founders, Stephan Bezuidenhout and Shane Burton, for championing the project over the past three years, as well as Discovery itself, which was instrumental in making available the critical start-up capital to get the EPA off the ground.
In the EPA’s own words:
The EPA aims to be the recognised professional body for Ethics Practitioners. The purpose of the association is to promote the professional status, image and credibility of its members and provide accreditation, best practice principles, conduct standards and be a body of knowledge for its members.