The launch of the Helsinki Declaration principles at ICCO's Global Summit in Finland’s capital, follows the high-profile collapse of London agency Bell Pottinger after its controversial activities in South Africa. However, work on the principles began prior to the scandal.
The principles have been agreed unanimously by board members as representatives of the ICCO member associations. They will now be passed on to those 55 associations for formal approval and application.
The principles are:
- To work ethically and in accordance with applicable laws
- To observe the highest professional standards in the practice of public relations and communications
- To respect the truth, dealing honestly and transparently with employees, colleagues, clients, the media, government and the public
- To protect the privacy rights of clients, organisations, and individuals by safeguarding confidential information
- To be mindful of their duty to uphold the reputation of the industry
- To be forthcoming about sponsors of causes and interests and never engage in misleading practices such as 'astroturfing'
- To be aware of the power of social media, and use it responsibly
- To never engage in the creation of or knowingly circulate fake news
- To adhere to their association’s code of conduct, be mindful of the codes of conduct of other countries, and show professional respect at all times
- To take care that their professional duties are conducted without causing offence on the grounds of gender, ethnicity, origin, religion, disability or any other form of discrimination.
ICCO chief executive Francis Ingham said: "My firm conviction is that the PR industry is fundamentally a very ethical one. But I know that in this era of ever-increasing transparency, we will be scrutinised more and more, and judged on our behaviour, rather than just our words.
"The Helsinki Declaration is an important step forward for us as we prepare for those increased levels of scrutiny – a simple, easy-to-follow statement of ethical practice. Principles that are as applicable in Singapore as in Paris, London, New York, or indeed anywhere else around the globe. These are ICCO's standards - judge us and our members by them."
Bell Pottinger is not the only agency to suffer a recent backlash on ethical grounds due to work on a particular client. In July, Weber Shandwick withdrew from a public affairs contract with Egypt after six months. That followed a critical feature in The Atlantic that accused Weber of working with "one of Egypt's top spy services".