Do You Know the Rules for Ethical Supplier Interaction?

You might think you do, because ethics are just doing the right thing, and doing the right thing is just using common sense to apply your morality to the situation at hand. But do you? For the most part, you probably do but I’d bet there are situations where you don’t. Because ethics aren’t hard and fast like regulations and laws. There are no well-defined lines to push or cross. And if there is no well defined ethics policy at your company, it can be trickier than you think.

This is made clear in Next Level’s Purchasing great express course on 15 Rules For Ethical Supplier Interaction, which is free as part of a premium Next Level Purchasing Association Premium Membership (which is $99.99/year) or $14.99 as a standalone purchase. (SI would strongly suggest the annual membership as you then get access to over 18 express courses, over 100 articles, dozens of archived webinars [and transcripts], white papers, and the salary guide.)

The NLP express course covers bribes, which are usually (but not always) obvious, (personal) relationships, stock ownership, donations, and gifts. Bribes are usually obvious since, under laws like the FCPA (Foreign Corrupt Practices Act) and the Modern UK Bribery Act, they are illegal, but sometimes bribes can be hidden in (seemingly) legal transactions and not even appear as a bribe to anyone investigating a purchase decision because the briber and the bribed might have hidden information. For example, instead of offering you $10K or an all-expense paid trip to Hawaii for awarding the business, the supplier might make a large purchase from a business you are the majority shareholder in (and, from which, you would get a large dividend or bonus) at above market rate. From a third party perspective, the supplier made an unrelated business decision to buy its new office equipment from an unrelated company, that just happened to occur before it was awarded the (much) larger contract from your organization. But even though there might not even be a perceived conflict of interest in this situation, there is, because it’s hard to not see a supplier favourably who awards business to a company you control, even if you are making an conscious effort to try and be unbiased. But this is just one example where ethics can get tricky. The short course does a great job of outlining others.

Donations for charitable organizations are less obvious because everyone just wants to help a good cause, and what does it hurt if a supplier makes a decision to support your favourite charity? Well, it depends. How much? Does the supplier expect favouritism for the donation? Will the donation unconsciously bias you toward the supplier? Will there be a perception of bias? It’s tough.

But toughest as all is the question of accepting supplier gifts or meals. A meal is just a meal and a gift with nominal value is just a polite introduction, right? Well, maybe. Is it just lunch to discuss a proposal, or is it a fancy dinner at the up-scale private club at the local sports stadium that just happens to overlook the big game? And what is nominal value? It’s shaky ground, which is made even shakier by the fact that refusing a gift could be considered rude and damage the relationship. What do you do then? It’s a much tougher subject than you first think it is, and the more you examine it, the harder it is to define ethical versus non-ethical behaviour and good business rules vs. bad. This is a subject the course spends a considerable amount of time on and a subject you as a Procurement professional need to spend a considerable amount of time on to really understand the intricacies. At the end of the course, you will have a much better understanding of the, sometimes hidden, ethical dilemmas that you will face on a daily basis and, as a bonus, get a starting list of 15 rules that you can use to jump start the creation of a Procurement ethics policy that will help you and your team to always get it right.

Next Level’s Purchasing course on 15 Rules For Ethical Supplier Interaction is a great course on the subject matter and SI recommends that you check it out if you can get access to it.

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