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International Code of Conduct: United Parcel Service

At United Parcel Service (UPS), their global presence meant establishing international standards for all of the company’s employees.

Posted by Joe Gerard on June 17th, 2010

Writing globally accepted ethics policies is a challenging task for any business. Varying in culture, ethics, laws and employee expectations, no country conducts business in the exact same way. At United Parcel Service (UPS), the global presence of the company meant establishing international standards for all of the company’s employees. The successful integration of the UPS code of conduct into global operations demonstrates how understanding cultural differences and employee needs helps management develop policies that are easily understood by all- regardless of the country the employee operates out of.

International Code of Conduct

In a press release on the company’s website, former Chairman and CEO of UPS, Mike Eskew states:

“We care as much about how we get results as we do about getting the results. Getting results at the cost of violations of laws or through unscrupulous dealings do more than violate our standards – they challenge our ability to grow our business and undermine our reputation.”

UPS offers employees the opportunity to suggest changes or “better wording” of sections in the company code of conduct. The code includes a form employees can fill out with the section number they wish to see changed, suggested wording to be used, comments/ reasoning for the change and the instructions regarding where to send the completed form. In 2009, UPS included a human rights statement in the company code of conduct. In the code of conduct they write, “as a global company, UPS recognizes that it plays a role in acknowledging basic human rights in accordance with our high standards for the treatment of our people.”

Cultural Differences

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In the beginning, when UPS developed their first international code of business conduct, they had a lot of work to do. Their team held focus groups at a number of global offices to create a relatable and easy to understand code. Benchmarking was also used in order to compare the code with those developed by other companies known as international ethics leaders. In the Ethikos article, “United Parcel Service Translates and Transports an Ethics Code Overseas,” written by Andrew W. Singer, he writes:

“The US code of conduct became the centerpiece of employee focus group sessions that were conducted around the world—16 in Europe, 10 in Asia, 4 in Canada, and 5 in the Americas. What did employees like about the code? What did they not like? In the course of these sessions, training gaps were revealed. An Irish employee, for example, asked, “What is the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act?” (Even though it is a U.S. statute, the FCPA applies to UPS’s foreign employees.) Above all they found that employees wanted the code translated into their own language.

Focus group sessions revealed some problems with the company hotline, initially called the ‘Conduct-line.’ In Asia they discovered: ‘It’s not something we would do,’ that is, report on another employee. ‘That would be like taking someone’s life.’ There was also resistance in other places, like Germany, where totalitarian memories (e.g., neighbors encouraged to ‘report’ on neighbors) were still alive. The ‘Conduct-line’ name was a problem, the foreign employees suggested. If it were renamed the ‘Help-line,’ overseas employees might be more inclined to use it. The latter suggests guidance. ‘Conduct-line,’ by contrast, suggests ‘snitching’ on somebody.”

The UPS Code of Business Conduct is available in 12 languages to employees around the world.
The conflicts explained in the above excerpt are common for many companies establishing an internationally adopted code of conduct. Tone, wording, sensitivity to certain issues and translation matters are all common when developing global policies. It’s important to address these matters in the development process rather than go back and make amendments later. Employees in other countries respond better to policies that make sense to them and relate to cultural familiarities. The development process helps the company’s compliance department learn more about their overseas counterparts. This makes it easier for both groups to understand and become aware of the cultural differences between each group.

Today, the UPS Code of Business Conduct is available in 12 languages to employees around the world. The UPS Help Line is available in significantly more languages to provide guidance to all employees 24/7. As mentioned above in the excerpt from the Ethikos article, UPS went beyond simply translating the US version of the code. The company’s compliance department took the time to meet with employees from a variety of positions and countries within the company in order to create policies that, when translated, remained meaningful and related to local norms.

Code of Conduct Training

UPS outlines the training process managers and other employees are required to complete upon entering the company, as well as refresher courses for managers remaining with the company. As stated on the company’s website, the training process includes:

– UPS managers must complete Business Conduct and Compliance training sessions upon becoming a member of the management team.

– A refresher course must be completed by all managers every two years.

– Within 90 days of hire or promotion, employees must also complete additional job related training sessions, including:

  • Anti-Corruption
  • Antitrust
  • Insider Trading
  • Information Use and Security Compliance
  • Government Contracts
  • Canada Employee Privacy
  • Business Conduct and Compliance Program
  • Records Management

Joe Gerard
Joe Gerard

CEO, i-Sight

Spend my days showing off the i-Sight investigative case management software and finding ways to help clients improve their investigations. Usually working with corporate security, HR & employee relations, compliance and legal teams.

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