Postcard from Paris: EBEF ’24 Shines for Evidence-Based Ethics in City of Light

Trust cannot exist without evidence-based ethics. The 2024 European Business Ethics Forum illuminated this fact well in the City of Light.

As I learned last week, even in winter and under constant rain-swept skies, Paris earns its “City of Light” moniker in more ways than one…

…Particularly so, when you’re visiting within a newfound community of colleagues, who share similar commitment and vision for their companies to do right by others, in the spirit of transparency and honest communication that only unobstructed light can deliver.

Attending my first European Business Ethics Forum (#EBEF24), one of the most enjoyable aspects beyond the beauty of the host city was a sense of shared professional values amongst those in attendance.

In contrast with my often feeling in recent years like such an outlier within the U.S. public relations (PR) community for my focus on “compliance” as an essential component of PR “ethics,” I immediately felt welcomed and included at EBEF.

From the launch of the conference forward, I sensed that I had “found my people.”

EBEF was mostly attended by ethics and compliance (E&C) officers and other professionals in similar functions.

Professionals in all roles and functions of any organization (including PR) insisting that managements who claim certain ethical tenets and values hold true to them in daily practice… and not flagrantly, repeatedly, and purposely violate them while deceiving important stakeholders.

Organizational executives flouting the most basic standards of legal compliance in financial reporting and audit functions (just to name some), all the while, claiming to be standard-bearers of ethics while trafficking in disinformation and gaslighting and threatening those who question / protest observed misconduct, and, also all the while, governing boards look the other way, in disengaged detachment and neglect.

In the course of my career, I’ve seen first-hand both ends of this sanity vs. insanity spectrum. Despite what many may try to convince you as otherwise, there’s little gray in between.

It was refreshing to network amongst professionals at EBEF who completely grasp that dichotomy and want to work in service to only the sane option.

In short, E&C people “get it.”

I was struck by just how much PR, brand-reputation, and comms topics were included across the various sessions — particularly issues of internal communication and the critical need to develop strong employee cultures of ethics, at all levels.

It also was sobering to realize the extent to which some communities I’ve witnessed elsewhere (certainly well-external to EBEF) simply cannot seem to reconcile the difference between the two.

It was my pleasure to present a session at EBEF — at the invitation of the Washington, D.C.-based Ethics & Compliance Initiative — focused on the strategic-communications and reputation-management component of organizational ethics:

We discussed ECI’s new Business Integrity Library, an online resource of searchable corporate reports where ECI members can locate specific best-practices that help measure, substantiate, and quantify how companies adopt and adhere to practices in alignment with publicly stated principles.

The best part of the session — as in all of the EBEF sessions I attended — was the fact that it genuinely engaged robust conversations during the session itself.

Instead, we managed during the session a dynamic information-exchange and a sharing of perspectives that served to enlighten attendees and presenters alike.

EBEF takes place under The Chatham House Rule, which is not common at all amongst PR industry conferences, particularly those in the U.S., so I’m sharing the disclaimer here as a point of interest for those who are unfamiliar:

As such, I cannot share much about the conversations and exchanges that took place during EBEF… suffice to say, the immense expertise and diverse competencies demonstrated by leaders and attendees of this event certainly earned my deepest appreciation, admiration, and respect.

Huge thanks go to ECI for inviting me to be part of EBEF ’24, and thanks as well to the Paris-based Cercle d’Éthiques des Affaires (CEA) and the U.K.-based Institute of Business Ethics (IBE) for co-hosting EBEF.

It remains my hope and my vision that the global public relations industry will do its part — in meaningful, substantive ways — to promote and advance the “sane” end of the spectrum, as earlier described.

PR industry leaders must also do far more to reject the gray areas of slippery spin and other organizational communication that invariably mask and promote dark practices, often fueled by illogical and overly permissive governance.

A sidebar note of thanks is due to the third-party International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO) — which I’ve had the pleasure of serving on the board of management — for its work toward advancing ethics in PR, promoting digital comms ethics and ethics in A.I., and fighting disinformation:

Taking an interdisciplinary approach, I’ve appreciated the opportunity to leverage ECI’s Global Business Ethics Survey (GBES) across ICCO’s PR leadership community, to promote transparent workplace reporting of misconduct and prevention of retaliation, which we specifically discussed in a panel session during the 2022 ICCO Global Summit in Dubai:

More recently at ICCO’s 2023 Global Summit in Warsaw, I joined ICCO Past Chairman Maxim Behar to support ICCO Ethics Chair Christina Forsgård‘s fantastic work in unveiling ICCO’s Warsaw Principles of Ethics in Artificial Intelligence:

ICCO’s most recent World Report’s “Ethics in the Industry” snapshot by Christina Forsgård shared data points of note. I invite my EBEF colleagues to download the ICCO World Report, in order to understand #PRethics issues we’re grappling with:

Promoting PR ethics effectively requires speaking not only amongst PR-centric communities but also reaching out across other professional management functions… well-outside the scope of strategic comms.

On a final note, no postcard from Paris would be complete without sharing some favorite vistas from the trip.

For those attending a Paris-based conference in the future — where the majority of your daytime may be confined within a conference center — I strongly recommend taking a Parisian night tour with a private driver who knows the city well.

Paris is indeed “The City of Light,” and, like our universal work in upholding ethics in business, government, or not-for-profit organizational management, the light of how we make substantive decisions and communicate about them should consistently shine…


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