Some 240 general counsel responded to a survey conducted by FTI Consulting, the results of which are in Corp. Bd. Mbr., Vol. 12, 2nd Quarter 2009 at 51. One question on the poll was “Should the general counsel be considered the chief ethics officer?’” Three-quarters of the respondents agreed; no data is given regarding whether the remaining quarter disagreed or had no view.
I am not sure what a chief ethics officer does, although this blog is replete with references to ethics (See my post of Oct. 7, 2008: ethics with 29 references.). My sense is that ethical considerations move in a different direction than compliance, the latter being adherence to laws and regulations, the former (ethics) being enforcement of fundamental moral principles such as fairness, honesty, and responsible dealings. The domain of “corporate social responsibility” seems to me to extend ethical behavior beyond the corporation, to the larger community around it.
Whatever the boundaries, to be a company’s ethics czar assumes a large and diffuse responsibility for a general counsel.