A code makers code may be required to avoid unbalanced obligations

This is number 8 and my final set of ramblings following a study of  ethical, moral and codified guidance provided by a variety of respected Public Relations Associations from the United States, Europe and the Middle East.

A general observation across all the codes studied is that they appear to have been developed by corporations – ‘clients’ or ‘agencies’ – and therefore the ‘moral’ guidance given is mostly in their interest.

This is particularly apparent as there are very few articles, clauses or guidelines related to the ethical treatment of staff.

One might argue that this is a matter for Human Resources or Employment Law, however, when taken into account against other clauses which oblige the employee to respect their employer’s confidentially and other Intellectual Property rights, then it is argued that these codes are unbalanced.

The PRSA’s Code of Ethics has a number of different clauses that impose obligations on the Member towards their employer, and no reciprocal protection for the Member themselves.

The PRCA states fair treatment should be offered at all times to ‘colleagues’ and fellow members and professionals, but falls short of using the word ‘employee’ (Public Relations Consultants Association – PRCA), 2011, p. 1). However, it also does not oblige staff to offer firm commitments over and above what is considered ‘standard’ to their employer either (Table 2 – Common Themes Expressed in Codes of Ethics).

IPRA through the Code of Athens (IPRA, 2009) obliges agencies to abide by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – a document which contains several clauses which benefit employees – the most relevant being Article 23 (Universal Declaration of Human Rights). However, its Code of Venice (IPRA, 2009) obliges members to commit to standards of Conduct towards their Employers and Clients; Public and the Media and Colleagues but omits ‘Employees/Staff’.

The Global Alliance mentions obligations to employers in four of its five key principles and also supports equal opportunity of employment (Global Alliance, pp. 3-4).

The IABC (Code of Ethics)and ICCO (Stockholm Charter, 2003) neither offer explicit support to, nor oblige commitments on staff.

Both the CIPR and MEPRA include some clauses that support employees.

The CIPR obliges members to treat their employees ‘fairly’ and that ‘all reasonable care to ensure employment best practice including giving no cause for Complaint of unfair discrimination on any grounds’ (Chartered Insititute of PR – CIPR, 2011, p. p3). Note in the 2012 edition the article on discrimination and employment best practice has been removed (Chartered Institute of Public Relations, 2012).

The Middle East PR Association also calls on Registered Agencies to treat their employees fairly (Registered Agency Code of Conduct). MEPRA also holds Agencies responsible for any breach of ethical standards from their employees this is in contrast to the PRCA which holds Members accountable for actions of their colleagues, but again falls short of using any word that indicates employment (Professional Charter, 2011).

It’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you. Working in the PR industry it would be extremely naïve to assume that companies are participating in associations not to support their interests. And, having read the preamble and some of the documents explaining why some Associations do not pursue or punish their members (Kathy R. Fitzpatrick, 2000) (James E. Lukaszewski, 2010) the omission on clauses, or articles that provide relief in many of the major Associations is most likely by design, than by honest accident.

Can an Association’s ‘Codes’ be respected if they omit the obligations to staff. In the modern age, do PR Consultants need or want a Trade Union behind them? This is a debate which should be on the agenda of Annual Meetings as our industry matures and faces greater pressure from competitive sectors and from the general economic decline.


About stephenking2012

In 2012 I volunteered to hold the position of Chair - Standards & Ethics Committee for the Middle East PR Association (@MEPRA_org). I have set up this account to assist in this effort. You may also like to follow my Blog or connect with me on LinkedIn. In any case, please do visit www.mepra.org, and if you are not yet a member, please do sign up!
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