THE BIG QUESTION: Can PR ensure a company's work practices live up to its ethical code? - The Gap and Nike have come in for criticism after Panorama exposed a factory they used to manufacture clothing in Cambodia employing underage workers

John Drummond, Corporate Culture

John Drummond, Corporate Culture

'It's not about ethics. It is about the three i's: integration across all audiences, integrity and impact. It's about ensuring there is no gap between what you say and what you do. It's difficult for businesses to imagine how they check integrity but it's not difficult in practice. For example, a business could commission regular consumer eye research into their business. It's absolutely the role of the professional communicator to seek to advise and influence the business on company policy and practice if that might have an influence on reputation. All of this should be seen in the context of total reputation management.'

Kay Sexton, Accountability

'Companies need to focus on the reality of the situation on the ground and on improving their performance in relation to contested and complex issues. This means policies, systems and actions that focus on seeking to address such issues and that also look at continuous improvement. The role of PR is an integral part of the focus of communication. PR has an aspect of transparency and accountability that the Institute of Social and Ethical Accountability is committed to furthering. In addition, there has to be two-way communication if meaningful engagement and understanding of complex issues is to be achieved.'

Yvonne Iwaniuk, Nike

'A company has to have a genuine ethical code and a process to monitor it. It does not matter how good your public relations is, if a company does not believe in its code it will soon be exposed.

The role of public relations should be to understand what is going on in society, what the public mood is and the position of different stakeholders including NGOs. Public relations should also ensure that a company is aware of this and where necessary challenge a company that does not have a code or does not follow it. The reality is that even with a code of conduct in place companies will still find themselves the target of criticism. It is very important that public relations professionals truly understand the code and are in a position to explain it.'

Simon Williams, Co-operative Bank

'If a business takes a public ethical stance of course it must live up to it - this is the responsibility of the entire company, not just that of a PR department. The media, in particular, and consumers in general are cynical. They are surrounded by hype and spin all the time.

Therefore, it is only to be expected that they will look for the Achilles heel and find it. However a PR department can help, not least through its unique position in being able to convince management of the severe reputational risks in failing to meet a publicly-quoted ethical code. In a business that proclaims itself to be ethical, it is even more important that the media-facing team is always seen to be behaving in an ethical manner.'

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