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Compliance vs. Ethics Comparison

The fact that ethics and compliance are commonly confused demonstrated that they are close in meaning, yet there is a vast difference. As for me, the distinction between these two words seems to be in the fact that compliance rests on a pragmatic basis, while ethics is social and intuitional. Although both notions imply rule observance, these two rules – law and ethics – fail to agree. Compliance is totally about the law and legal implications such as company rules and local, federal, or international regulations concerning the particular business sphere. As Watson (2014) justly puts it, compliance is something that is forced by the government. Therefore, the absence of compliance is punishable by the law that may result in a lawsuit or money loss and reputational damage.

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Meanwhile, ethics corresponds to the rule of one particular person, or society, or team. It resides in a human value system that may differ depending on the country or business goals and strategy. Ethics may be divided between the so-called social set of values and the organizational set of values. Social values determine the relationships with customers, and it is here that an organization should keep ecological issues in mind and support a local environment through its actions. Organizational values help maintain an influential corporate culture and set a positive tone and climate and bring all the employees together in the face of a great common purpose. The violation of ethics may harm a company’s reputation, deter some customers, or destroy company morale, as in the case of lavish gifts in the article (Watson, 2014). However, ethical dos and don’ts are not controlled by anyone but the ethics officer.

One more difference between ethics and compliance is in the facility of their definition. Whereas compliance is easily definable, ethics is hard to outline. Ethics is not obligatory, and one can choose between acting ethically correct or incorrect, which is also a big question. Compliance is a must for a company striving for success and a solid reputation. However, these two components may often contradict one another, and only the organization decides on behalf of one of these.

The way that the company individually defines the concepts given is crucial for any business. Thus, the question comes to my mind: how these two concepts should interrelate? Having read the article (Watson, 2014), I am absolutely sure that a compliance officer should act with respect to both ethics and compliance nowadays and show how they can work together. However, if there was a choice, I would choose a compliance officer, as it involves both legal and moral aspects.

Let us take a financial organization as an example: a compliance officer here is of great help, as banking laws and policies change rapidly and need a close eye on them. A compliance officer in a bank can assess the risks, investigate the non-compliant cases inside the company, and consult colleagues on regulations. What is more, the officer’s educating job may include communicating the importance of law-abiding for the company reputation and spreading company goals and ethics among the employees, along with creating a friendly environment. As a result, the company will promote a stable corporate value system and guarantee its legal functioning. Consequently, the presence of a compliance officer well-acquainted with ethics is critically important for any company today.


Watson, A. (2014). Ethics vs. compliance: Do we really need to talk about both? Inside Counsel, 23.

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