aig_pagebanner02_events

The Ethics Column:  “I want to make a complaint”

After almost 45 years this remains one of the world’s most famous complaints  Monty Python's Flying Circus Season 1 - Episode 8, Recorded 25-Nov-1969

After almost 45 years this remains one of the world’s most famous complaints.  Monty Python’s Flying Circus Season 1 – Episode 8, Recorded 25-Nov-1969

Few would not have seen the comedy sketch pictured here, where a customer seeks to complain to a shopkeeper regarding a dead but, in the shopkeeper’s eyes, still “beautiful” parrot. The sketch highlights conduct that doesn’t reflect well on the shopkeeper and would influence the parrot owner’s future decisions about whether to shop there again.

This may seem unrelated to the issue of professional ethics but this is arguably not the case. Ethical conduct is essential if there is to be confidence and trust in information provided by professionals and their actions in delivering services to employers, clients and the broader community.

Standards of professional conduct expected of AIG members are set out in the Institute’s Articles of Association and Code of Ethics. Instances of non-compliance with these standards are managed through a complaints process overseen by AIG’s Complaints and Ethics and Standards Committees.

AIG’s Code of Ethics and Complaints Process

AIG is able to perform its role as a professional institute by having a strong and enforceable Code of Ethics, which you, as an AIG member, agree to comply with as a condition of being admitted to membership the Institute. Members’ commitment to upholding the Institute’s Code of Ethics is confirmed through renewal of your membership annually. Compliance with AIG’s Code of Ethics is a requirement of all members irrespective of membership grade. This requirement extends to Graduates in the same manner as it does to Members and Fellows.

The Code of Ethics has changed little since it was written at the time the Institute was formed more than 30 years ago.

What has changed is the manner in which it is enforced. Complaints for many years were managed by the Ethics and Standards Committee which:

  • Received complaints regarding the conduct of members;
  • Decided whether the complaint warranted investigation, which, if necessary, it then carried out;
  • Imposed penalties on members who were found by the committee to have acted contrary to the Code of Ethics.

The Ethics and Standards Committee effectively acted as both the prosecutor and adjudicator – a process that became to be considered inherently unfair, despite members who were subject to adverse findings by the Ethics and Standards Committee had the right to appeal against any ruling to the Institute’s Council.

A two stage process was introduced in 2007 to address this shortcoming by forming a Complaints Committee which was assigned the role of investigating complaints referred to it by the Ethics and Standards Committee if there were grounds for doing so. The Ethics and Standards Committee assesses whether the a complaint is for a matter of a minor nature, which would result in the member being sent a letter detailing the Institute’s concerns, or deciding that a complaint was frivolous and dismissing it. More serious complaints are investigated by the Complaints Committee and the findings are submitted to the Ethics and Standards Committee for adjudication. The Complaints and Ethics and Standards Committees are independent, with no cross-membership.

This change removed any responsibility for prosecution of complaints from the Ethics and Standards Committee, putting it in a position to impartially consider complaints and evidence in defence of members alleged to have breached the Code of Ethics.

The concern underlying this change was one of ensuring procedural fairness which includes:

  • an absence of bias;
  • an inquiry into matters in dispute;
  • the opportunity to be heard; and
  • presentation of evidence to support a decision

The complaints process is illustrated in the following diagram which is also available on the AIG website.

AIG's Compliants Process

AIG’s Compliants Process

In short, an AIG member who breaches Canada NI 43-101 requirements for work undertaken in Canada or any other country will be dealt with in the same manner, and by the same process, that would apply for a breach of reporting requirements in compliance with the JORC Code in Australia.

AIG’s ability to enforce its Code of Ethics also ensures that the Institute may act, as required, against members who breach the code, and by doing so, potentially undermine public confidence in geoscience professions and practitioners. The Code of Ethics also sets standards of conduct for geoscientists with peers and other professionals that, again, help to maintain professional standards and relationships with other professionals.

More than JORC

The Code of Ethics sets out a number of requirements of members including:

  • avoiding and discouraging unwarranted statements;
  • ensuring professional opinions are provided in an impartial manner;
  • distinguishing between facts and opinions in any public comment, in either verbal or written form;
  • not doing anything, either intentionally or negligently, to injure the reputation, business or prospects of another member;
  • not accepting fees for referring a client or employer to a third party;
  • ensuring that subordinates are afforded opportunities for advancing their knowledge and experience;
  • giving credit to others where they have contributed to work; and,
  • preserving the confidentiality of information to which a member has access.

This list is not complete, but serves to highlight the breadth of the Code of Ethics with respect to the professional conduct of AIG members.

The issue of giving credit to others, mentioned in the list above, is particularly relevant to both reports and publications. This form of recognition is important. Failure to recognise the contributions of others, or publishing material that is the work of another is, without doubt, ethically unsound. Similarly, republishing papers or articles in multiple journals, conference proceedings, websites or even newsletters is something that could invite a complaint, even when the material is one’s own work. Authors who publish work in journals or conference proceedings are, usually, required to assign copyright to the publisher. Reproduction of that work elsewhere, with no or simply cosmetic changes, could be construed to be an infringement of copyright which could become the basis of a complaint.

AIG members are prevented from describing themselves, or permitting them to be described, as consultants unless they occupy a position of independence and are able to act as an unbiased and independent adviser.

Acceptance of favours by members from a person or organisation who might deal with their employer or client is not permitted under the Code of Ethics. Corporate law in many countries may consider actions of this nature as bribery, exposing members to legal sanctions.

Obligation to Report Unethical Conduct by Members

All AIG members are required to report perceived unethical conduct by other members. Not doing so constitutes a breach of the Code or Ethics.

Making a Complaint

Complaints must be lodged with the Complaints Committee. Only written complaints are accepted which may be submitted by mail to the AIG Secretariat office or by email (aig@aig.org.au). Any member or member of the public may submit a complaint.  Making a complaint is, hoverer, not an onerous or unduly bureaucratic process.  Making a complaint in writing provides a trigger for the Ethics and Standards Committee to decide whether an investigation is warranted, and for the Complaints Committee to proceed as required.

The Ethics and Standards Committee may also initiate complaints against members.

All complaints are dealt with in strict confidence although adverse findings against a member may be made public if this is considered to be appropriate by the Ethics and Standards Committee. This would not occur before the member concerned has had an opportunity to appeal an adverse finding by the committee.

Seeking Advice in Relation to Complaints

Members are able to seek advice from the Complaints Committee as to whether matters they are aware of could represent unethical conduct. Enquiries may be made in writing, by email or verbally.

Conclusions

AIG’s complaints process is an important means by which the Institute seeks to maintain both professional standards and public perception of the geoscience professions in Australia. This constitutes “core business” for any professional body. The maintenance of appropriate professional standards is an area where all members contribute every day in the course of their work.

Andrew Waltho
Chair, AIG Complaints Committee

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *