Corporate Boards More Involved in Ethics Programs

October 16, 2006 ( - A survey by The Conference Board and Corpedia has revealed that more corporate boards are becoming actively involved in providing oversight into companies' ethics and compliance programs.

According to a press release on the survey report, documented board involvement in ethics and compliance programs jumped from 21% in 1987 to 96% in 2005. Nearly eight in ten (79%) of corporate board members who answered a similar Conference Board survey in 1987 said their board had no contact with their company’s ethics program; but by 2005 only 4% of boards surveyed were not involved.

The survey also found that 70% of survey participants reported training more than 90% of their workforce in their companies’ code of conduct, the release said. According to The Conference Board, ethics training of some kind, possibly in response to the Revised 2004 Sentencing Guidelines provision that mandates ethics training throughout the company (including the board of directors), is now standard practice.

Ninety-two percent of respondents to the 2005 Conference Board survey said their company provided ethics training for at least some employees, higher than the 78% of those surveyed in 1998 who said they offered some kind of ethics training and the 44% of the survey participants in a 1987 pre-Federal Sentencing Guidelines report from The Conference Board who said so.

The vast majority of survey respondents (91%) reported their corporation maintains an anonymous reporting system whereby employees can report observed misconduct. The Conference Board said it has now also documented an increase in whistle-blowing systems outside the US, finding in a 2004 survey that 63% of UK and 58% of Japanese companies had whistle-blowing systems.

On the issue of risk, 70% of the companies surveyed have responded to the Revised 2004 Guidelines that mandate that risk assessment be a critical component of an effective compliance and ethics program. Publicly traded companies were more likely (77%) than their privately held counterparts (54%) to report that they engage in risk assessment.

Seventy-eight percent of the companies that conduct risk assessments prioritize risk from both a probability of occurrence as well as severity of impact. The most frequent risk assessment exercises were an assessment of internal policies and practices (95%), assessment of employee understanding of ethics and compliance systems (77%) and assessment of anonymous reporting systems (75%).

The report is based on a survey by The Conference Board and Corpedia of 225 companies about the design and implementation of their compliance and risk assessment programs. The survey report, “Universal Conduct: An Ethics and Compliance Benchmarking Survey,” can be downloaded from here .