Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Panama Papers: A Blog Post from a member of IPRO 497

This summer, we will be sharing a series of blog posts from the undergraduate students who worked with us on a semester-long project looking at redesigning the Ethics Codes Collection.

The first are the reflections of Zachary Pergrossi, a senior in finance who became interested in ethical codes in accounting, finance and business.

The release of the documents from the Panamanian corporate service provider Mossack Fonseca (see
Mossfon.com), dubbed “The Panama Papers”, has caused quite a bit of controversy surrounding the
parties involved and the ethical breaches they committed. The leak has already seen lasting
repercussions for notable figures worldwide. Ties to political leadership (including Russia’s Vladimir
Putin and the Prime Ministers of Iceland, Britain, and Pakistan, among others) 1 have already caused
sudden responses from the public. The resignation of Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, in particular, showed the response that a breach of ethics can cause. As a member of Iceland’s Progressive party, a violation of the public’s trust brought non-partisan support for nation-wide protests. Results like these come from a clear breach of the ethical codes our societies subscribe to, but these were not the only codes bent or broken during the revelation of the Panama Papers.

Many codes were broken in the years-long process to reveal the information. So why, then, is the
breach of code by the whistleblowing hacker 2 celebrated while those of Mossack Fonseca and its clients are reviled? A close look at each code can help us to understand the public sentiment toward this issue.

The first thing to note about this situation is that Mossack Fonseca has no specific code of ethics
whatsoever. Their site boasts of their services and accomplishments but does not specify the codes they operate under. However, following the leak, Mossack Fonseca detailed some of the rules they follow in dealing with clients:
we conduct due diligence on clients at the outset of a potential engagement and on an ongoing
basis;
  • we routinely deny services to individuals who are compromised or who fail to provide information we need in order to comply with “know your client” obligations or when we identify other red flags through our due diligence;
  • we routinely resign from client engagements when ongoing due diligence and/or updates to sanctions lists reveals that a party to a company for which we provide services been either convicted or listed by a sanctioning body;
  • we routinely comply with requests from authorities investigating companies or individuals for whom we are providing services;
  • we work with established intermediaries, such as investment banks, accountancies and law firms, as part of the regulated global financial system. 3
Despite these standards, Mossack Fonseca’s clients are some of the most prolific tax- and regulation-
dodgers worldwide. The failures of codes of ethics to prevent situations like this are one of the most
common arguments against the documents. Some argue, even, that “aspirational” codes of ethics
simply reveal the organization’s commitment to not being able to follow their own code. A code made simply ‘for show’ will do nothing to prevent unethical behavior. Unfortunately, many codes seem to be made as public relations pieces rather than a governing document. A strong code, though, provides protections for both professionals and the people they interact with.

Where Mossack Fonseca’s code failed them, the journalists’ did not. Each was a member of the
International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and held to a strict set of principles about how the information was to be handled. While journalists from the Sueddeutsche Zeitung had access to the data for over a year, the maintenance of their code of ethics allowed them to work with ICIJ members during this time for over a year without information being leaked to the public. A concerted effort from the ICIJ members allowed them to release the information in unison to maximize the effect of the documents. This coordination was important to the journalists because of the potential harm a mistake could cause. Naming an individual in a case like this was a serious matter. Beyond that, the nature of the information could potentially put the journalists at risk for retribution; only a simultaneous release could protect them, and only a strict code of ethics could accomplish that.

Even now, the journalists stick to their ethics. Asked to release the raw data, employees of the
Sueddeutsche Zeitung explained that they could not:

“We are not going to release the raw data and we have valid reasons to do so. The source
decided to give the data to journalists and not, i.e., to Wikileaks. As journalists, we have to
protect our source: We can’t guarantee that there is no way for someone to find out who the
source is with the data. That’s why we can’t make the data public.

And as responsible journalists we also stick to certain ethical rules: You don’t harm the privacy
of people, who are not in the public eye. Blacking out private data is a task that would require a
lifetime of work - we have eleven million documents!” 4

While weak ethical stances allowed Mossack Fonseca’s clients to dodge taxes and regulation on a global scale, strong ethical codes allowed the Panama Papers to make an impact on the corruption of the world’s elite. A code of ethics made to be seen will prevent nothing, but a code of ethics meant to be followed will make all the difference.

To bring one of the latter type to your company or organization, please see the IIT Ethics Code
Collection’s resources on writing and improving codes of ethics.

1 http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/06/world/europe/panama-papers- iceland.html
2 http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-04- 06/mossack-fonseca- blames-panama- papers-leak- on-hackers
3 http://www.mossfon.com/media/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Statement- Regarding-Recent- Media-Coverage_4-1- 2016.pdf
4. https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/4fi6ck/we_are_the_investigative_journalists _who_worked

References:
http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-04- 06/mossack-fonseca- blames-panama- papers-leak- on-hackers

https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/4fi6ck/we_are_the_investigative_journalists_who_worked
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/06/world/europe/panama-papers- iceland.html

http://www.mossfon.com/media/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Statement- Regarding-Recent- Media-
Coverage_4-1- 2016.pdf
https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/4fi6ck/we_are_the_investigative_journalists_who_worked

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl mentioned as an effective teaching tool in latest Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues Report

Last week, the  Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission)  published a new report, Bioethics for Every Generation: Deliberation and Education in Health, Science, and Technology that highlights the Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl as an effective teaching tool for college students to learn about ethics.

Last year,  emeritus professor Dr. Robert Ladenson had the opportunity to speak at a roundtable discussion organized by the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues that focused on brainstorming ideas on education and deliberation. Dr. Ladenson discussed how the Ethics Bowl has been used around the country by high schools and universities to help students not only to learn about important ethical issues, but also deliberate and discuss these issues in the form of a competition.

The report describes the Ethics Bowl as, 
"...the Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl teaches college students how to engage in ethical reasoning by deliberating in teams about specific cases, including bioethics topics. The Ethics Bowl challenges the traditional pedagogical approaches and requires students to engage with the topic and deliberate together, each bringing her own values and ethical reasoning skills to bear. It raises the stakes by using team competition, engaging students in active learning. " (p.77)


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Videos from IPRO -497-226 Improving the Ethics Codes Collection

After winning their track on IPRO Day, we wanted to share some of what our amazing students got up to this semester.  Charged with producing videos that documented how different types of users will interact with the Ethics Codes Collection, these are the final results of the four teams.

Professional Users Video

Nonusers Video

Nonprofessional Users Video

Owners Video

This class came up with innovative new ideas to reimagine the Ethics Codes Collection into a resource that is not only a great asset for ethics code owners and professionals of all disciplines, but is also a great for students and any new users discovering ethics for the first time. With funding from the MacArthur Foundation, our class began the work to improve it by using a user-centered design approach. User-centered approach means we put the user in the center of our research process and conducted qualitative methods to identify their unmet needs and desires and redesign the collection according to user needs. The students created four videos documenting their findings on how different groups of users are likely to approach the site, and came up with a list of resources that the redesigned site will adopt as part of its new interface and expanded collection. The success of this semester will set us up for next semester, when we will building the prototype of the Ethics Codes Collection!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Congratulations to IPRO 497-226!

Congratulations to IPRO 497-226!winning your IPRO Day Track, Improving the Student Experience!
This class came up with innovative new ideas to reimagine the Ethics Codes Collection into a resource that is not only a great asset for ethics code owners and professionals of all disciplines, but is also a great for students and any new users discovering ethics for the first time. With funding from the MacArthur Foundation, our class began the work to improve it by using a user-centered design approach. User-centered approach means we put the user in the center of our research process and conducted qualitative methods to identify their unmet needs and desires and redesign the collection according to user needs. The students created four videos documenting their findings on how different groups of users are likely to approach the site, and came up with a list of resources that the redesigned site will adopt as part of its new interface and expanded collection. The success of this semester will set us up for next semester, when we will building the prototype of the Ethics Codes Collection!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Ethics Center Conference Brings Philosophy to 21st-Century Neuroscience

Over the weekend, the Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions hosted 19 speakers who were gathered to discuss whether we can learn anything about morality by studying the way the human brain makes moral decisions. The symposium—called Does Neuroscience Have Normative Implications?—attracted graduate students, junior faculty members, and full professors from philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience departments across the country. The proceedings of the symposium are to be collected and published as a collected volume, edited by Ethics Center Director Elisabeth Hildt and postdoctoral research fellow Geoff Holtzman. The conference, and the publication of its proceedings, present an opportunity for IIT to expand its reach into the growing field of neuroethics. 

Thanks to all of the participants for making this conference an incredible success!


Friday, April 1, 2016

New Journal Article by CSEP: "Twenty-Five Years of Ethics Across the Curriculum - An Assessment" in Teaching Ethics Journal

"Twenty-Five Years of Ethics Across the Curriculum - An Assessment"

Michael Davis; Elisabeth Hildt; Kelly Laas

Twenty-Five Years of Ethics Across the Curriculum - An AssessmentAfter twenty-five years of integrating ethics across the curriculum at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), the Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions conducted a survey of full-time faculty to investigate: a) what ethical topics faculty thought students from their discipline should be aware of when they graduate, b) how widely ethics is currently being taught at the undergraduate and graduate level, c) what ethical topics are being covered in these courses, and d) what teaching methods are being used. The survey found that while progress spreading ethics across the curriculum has been substantial, it remains incomplete. The faculty think more should be done. From these findings we draw six lessons for ethics centers engaged in encouraging ethics across the curriculum

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Symposium: Does Neuroethics have Normative Implications? Abstracts Now Online

Join us on April 15th and 16th for the symposium "Does Neuroethics Have Normative Implications?" in Hermann Hall on IIT's main campus. 

Neuroscience seeks to understand the biological systems that guide human behavior and cognition. Normative ethics, on the other hand, seeks to understand the system of abstract moral principles dictating how people ought to behave. Can neuroscience provide insight into normative ethics, and help us better understand which human actions and judgments are right, and which are wrong?
Invited speakers include James Giordano (Georgetown University), Eddy Nahmias (Georgia State University) and Kurt Gray (University of North Carolina).

You can download a copy of the schedule and abstracts, or visit the symposium web site for more information. 

Hope to see you there!