When Business Conduct Might Be Business Misconduct

IEEE has tools to help you decide

5 July 2013

Imagine this scenario: John, a professional colleague and member of your local IEEE section, has for several years been chairing the technical program committee for a regional conference that has been gaining national recognition. You are also a member of this committee. Graphic Masters, a moderate-size company that has been printing the proceedings of the conference since it began, is the only printer John has ever used. Even though the conference has grown in size and stature, John continues to use the printing company without soliciting bids leading to “least cost” contracts. Six months ago, John’s widowed sister married the vice president of Graphic Masters, and a few weeks ago John recommended to the committee that the company be retained again to print this year’s proceedings.

Being generally aware of sound business practices, you feel uncomfortable about this situation, but you’re not sure what to do. It’s not evident that John was wrong initially or in subsequent years in requesting and securing sole-source printing contracts, but in light of this new family connection, you aren’t sure whether John is complying with IEEE business practices.

For guidance, a good first source is the IEEE document “Details of Principles of Business Conduct.” In the subsection “Conflicts of Interest: Corporate Opportunities,” you read that “involved parties should not participate in any activity that creates or gives the appearance of a conflict of interest between their personal interests and the interests of IEEE.”

You read on, and Section IV, “Reporting and Effect of Violations,” includes the following statement: “Involved parties must complete and submit a Conflict of Interest Disclosure Statement to the Director, Internal Audit, indicating the existence of any actual or potential conflicts of interest between their IEEE responsibilities and their other personal or business involvements.”

If John did not report the conflict or if he did report it but was not granted a waiver, he would appear to be in violation of this requirement. Long-standing use of Graphic Masters from well before the marriage, however, gives you pause.

The preamble to Section IV points to a first step: “It is IEEE’s responsibility to provide a process for reporting and access to IEEE Corporate Integrity when an individual wishes to report a suspected violation of the principles or to seek counseling and guidance.”

You can explain the situation in an e-mail to me, IEEE’s corporate integrity contact person (CICP), and seek guidance on what to do when you’re uncertain whether a violation of IEEE’s principles of business conduct has occurred, as in the scenario I’ve described. The link will open an e-mail form so you can describe your quandary. It will be sent to the corp-integrity@ieee.org alias, which includes the IEEE’s director of internal audit as well as the CICP.

Depending on what you learn through an initial contact for information and guidance, you may find that the basis is too weak for a report of business misconduct. On the other hand, you may find that there is a sound basis for a report. In that case, you can continue by formally filing a report.

The CICP also investigates allegations and reports the results and recommended actions to the IEEE Audit Committee. If the committee agrees that a violation of IEEE’s principles of business conduct has occurred, the chair informs the person in violation as to the required corrective action and requests compliance. If the CICP believes that the case also includes a violation of IEEE’s code of ethics, the CICP will also file a complaint with the IEEE Ethics and Member Conduct Committee.

But what if you want to report this situation anonymously, with or without having initially sought guidance? Well, there’s a way to do so. Section IV, under the heading “Reporting Violations and Questions,” explains that inappropriate financial activities may be reported anonymously using the Navex Global service.* Navex Global, a company in Lake Oswego, Ore., manages the process of receiving and handling anonymous reports for IEEE. It receives and records reports of suspected financial impropriety and forwards them to IEEE’s director of internal audit as well as the CICP for evaluation and disposition.

EthicsPoint will be the only entity to know your identity. You’ll be asked for details about the suspected misconduct, including the name of the person involved, the IEEE location and/or organization where the incident occurred, and what you believe transpired. A unique code, or report key, will be assigned to each report so that the person who filed it can follow its status. Each accused individual will be given the opportunity to respond to the complaint.

Bickart is IEEE’s CICP.


*This article has been updated from the original version.

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