Why the highest ethical standards are important to have—and good for business
A recent study found that ninety-four percent of employees say it’s critical or important that the company they work for is ethical. Eighty-two percent even said they would prefer to be paid less and work for a company with ethical business practices, rather than receive a higher salary at a company with questionable ethics. A company’s ethics and corporate social responsibility matter for attracting the right employees, for legal compliance, for good corporate citizenship in general, and for building trust with employees and customers. A recent Pricewaterhouse Coopers survey found that ethical business practices were one of the top reasons both consumers and employees said they trusted their companies. Eighty percent of employees trust their companies the same or more than before the pandemic. Forty-nine percent of consumers said they started buying more from companies they trusted. The message is clear—ethical business behavior matters. But what does it look like in today’s corporate world, and what should companies look out for when working toward an ethical culture?
For Global Ethics Day, we talked to Markus Paulick and Isabel Helbing from BIOTRONIK’s corporate compliance team at Berlin headquarters about ethics at BIOTRONIK. And BIOTRONIK’s CSO and Managing Director Dr. Thomas Kraft adds his perspective and explains the reasons for updating the company’s Code of Business Conduct.
What does “ethics” or “ethical business” refer to in the corporate world?
Isabel Helbing: When we talk about “ethical business” in the corporate world, we’re really talking about morally irreproachable behavior that meets the highest possible ethical standard and exemplifies our values. Technically, “ethics” can be simplified as a system of moral principles that people or organizations adhere to. They affect how people or organizations make decisions. Obviously, that can cover quite a lot! But respect for dignity, integrity, and accountability are some of the most important principles when it comes to doing business.
In practice, companies typically start implementing these principles through an internal code of conduct, as well as through various guidelines and policies. These ethical codes really kicked off the modern concept of business ethics in the 1970s and it’s gradually become an academic field, with more and more companies developing and promoting their own ethical business guidelines.
At BIOTRONIK, we admittedly have a great advantage when it comes to our products themselves—they save lives and improve the quality of life for patients all over the world. This certainly makes it easier for many people to identify with us in an ethically positive sense.
Ninety-four percent of candidates say a company’s ethics are a major consideration when deciding where to work. Why do you suppose this is?
Helbing: Future employees do a lot of research when looking for a position and it’s almost inevitable that they’ll start to compare their own moral compass with that of the company. Hiring managers will also want them to have done this, to see if their values and convictions also match the company’s. Figuring that out usually involves looking at both how the company operates and what kind of products or services it provides. At BIOTRONIK, we admittedly have a great advantage when it comes to our products themselves—they save lives and improve the quality of life for patients all over the world. This certainly makes it easier for many people to identify with us in an ethically positive sense.
In addition to a company’s products, potential hires will look at the company’s reputation. It’s so important, in fact, that one survey found ninety-two percent of employees would consider leaving their current job for a firm with an excellent reputation—and corporate ethics are a big part of that. For example, why would a candidate want to work for a company that’s involved in a major child labor scandal, something that certainly contradicts his or her own values? This can also lead to broader questions and make the candidate wonder how that company treats any of its employees more generally. So once a company is involved in a scandal like that, it’s difficult to recover. A company’s bad reputation not only has negative effects on acquiring—and retaining—the right talent, but in most cases customer relations will deteriorate as well. Corporate values and ethics are the fundamental pillars for building a relationship of trust with both employees and customers.
Ethical and responsible business is a broad concept. What aspects are the most relevant for BIOTRONIK in particular?
Helbing: Considering ethics as a kind of system of moral principles, different principles can build on and reinforce each other. At BIOTRONIK, we believe that economic success and social commitment go hand in hand. Also, integrity and responsibility are important ethical principles that we practice every day. In our view, acting responsibly means working for the future of society worldwide. At the same time, it’s also good business.
BIOTRONIK works with local partners in Berlin, Germany, and around the world to support sustainable projects and promote the medical community. To use just one example, we invest in sustainable training programs to help develop junior physicians and cardiologists in particular. We also invest in clinical research. Those are great services to society in general, but they also help give us the expertise and data we need to innovate more lifesaving technologies. That’s just one example of how ethics and business sense reinforce each other.
In our revised Code of Conduct, we outline several areas that are relevant here, including our core values and customer promises, respectful collaboration in the workplace as well as fair and safe working conditions and general principles of behavior—just to name a few.
What are the particular ethical business considerations for operating in the medical industry?
Markus Paulick: As you might well expect for a field that looks after patient health, the medical technology industry is subject to many national and international laws, industry-specific regulations, and medical guidelines that help uphold the highest standard of patient safety. But beyond all the regulations we have to comply with legally, it’s also at the core of our values as a company. Our own corporate ethics make it clear that we never compromise on patient safety. It’s our number one priority and will stay that way.
While companies can and do exceed certain guidelines set out in industry-specific codes, they’re important for getting companies, healthcare institutions, and individual professionals on the same page—especially since business ethics cover so much. It’s normal to seek clarification that you’re upholding ethical standards—even when you’re trying to do something good, like helping to fund clinical research or scientific exchange. Our employees also benefit from having a guide for how they should provide technical support in a potentially stressful clinical environment. To use just one example, the MedTech Europe Code of Ethical Business Practice keeps a handy guide of Frequently Asked Questions on what sort of travel-related expenses companies can cover when sponsoring certain healthcare professionals to attend a scientific event. The AdvaMed Code of Ethics in the United States similarly covers what sort of educational and research grants industry can set up, and how they can set them up.
These international business codes also have ethical standards such as the four basic principles we always refer to in our compliance training when welcoming new employees: Observing and adhering to the principles of transparency, separation, equivalence, and documentation.
At BIOTRONIK, we believe in our company values and work hard every day to make sure that our guiding principle “excellence for life” is reflected in everything we do. Our ethical business culture is an integral part of our overall corporate identity.
How does BIOTRONIK live its ethical business culture?
Paulick: At BIOTRONIK, we believe in our company values and work hard every day to make sure that our guiding principle “excellence for life” is reflected in everything we do. Our ethical business culture is an integral part of our overall corporate identity, and implemented firstly through our Code of Business Conduct. We work to keep a constant eye on all current developments and to react accordingly, if necessary, with immediate measures. These measures are necessarily wide-ranging. Where there’s an acute case, we react with ad hoc information or any other necessary response. But it’s also our job to proactively anticipate possible issues before they occur and train employees to respond accordingly. For this, we’ve revamped some of our classroom and online training, launched awareness campaigns, and conduct consulting for special inquiries. Our new onboarding courses place a greater focus on the topics of equality, and social and environmental responsibility. Both frontline sales staff and new employees at headquarters receive ethics and compliance training in everything from workplace anti-discrimination to anti-fraud measures.
As we are a global company, we have a decentralized compliance management system. To maintain it effectively, we have designated contacts and colleagues at both a regional and individual country level. This also enables us to respond to possible particular local social and ethical contexts and manage corresponding developments directly on site. It also makes it easier for employees to turn to a contact person who speaks their language, for example, if they have questions or problems.
Our guiding principle "excellence for life" and our corporate culture, characterized by honesty, transparency, and integrity, are reflected in how we at BIOTRONIK do business.
You have recently been working on the company’s new Code of Business Conduct. What will this new policy entail? What are the most important updates?
Paulick: The BIOTRONIK Code of Business Conduct sets out the legal and ethical obligations of all employees and representatives of our company. The Code helps to illustrate our values and is designed as a reference for making ethical decisions, as well as for both anticipating and solving any legal problems. One of the reasons for revising our Code of Business Conduct is a new approach by our team of managing directors.
Dr. Thomas Kraft: Yes, let me tell you more about this process. We are a company with strong ethics and moral values and these should be reflected in our company’s Business Conduct. We have a responsibility to several parties at once: to society in general, to the patients who rely on our products, and also to our customers such as hospitals and doctors, who demand and deserve fair, honest and safe cooperation with us. Our guiding principle "excellence for life" and our corporate culture, characterized by honesty, transparency, and integrity, are reflected in how we at BIOTRONIK do business. That is why we are currently revising the Code of Business Conduct and our associated guidelines, including the ethics guideline. As part of this revision, we have integrated current legal requirements but have also elaborated more on BIOTRONIK's values and promises to our customers. In addition to the more traditional legal topics, we’ve also focused on ethical issues to make all of us even more aware of our social responsibility, especially in today's world. We’ve worked to make the Code even easier to understand and clearer for everyone. As just one example, we’ve now introduced the “10 Golden Rules” to encourage and support ethical behavior.