Certificate program takes aim at ethics

Word of an interesting program just came across my desk, an Excellence in Ethics certificate from the American Subcontractors Association. ASA is promoting ethical and equitable business practices by those subcontractors that demonstrate the highest standards of internal and external integrity in the construction industry. The Excellence in Ethics Certificate is awarded annually based on corporate

Word of an interesting program just came across my desk, an Excellence in Ethics certificate from the American Subcontractors Association.

ASA is promoting ethical and equitable business practices by those subcontractors that demonstrate the highest standards of internal and external integrity in the construction industry. The Excellence in Ethics Certificate is awarded annually based on corporate ethics policy and procedure, construction industry practices and general business practices.

Those three segments each have their own qualifying criteria. For example, under corporate ethics policy and procedure, the contractor's commitment has to be verified in writing by customers and suppliers. The ethics policy has to be in writing and all employees must receive training on the policy. Employees must be able to submit questions about ethical practices without fear of retaliation. The contractor must avoid conflicts of interest and, if one arises, it has to inform the customer or prospective customer. It must train employees about personal conflicts of interest. There must be a written policy for internal disclosure of conflicts of interest.

Under construction industry practices, the contractor has to obey all laws and regulations that govern it. It must respect the environment. It must be honest in all of its dealings with customers. It must protect the safety and health of its employees and the general public. The contractor must compete fairly for contracts and avoid any activity that might be construed as a violation of antitrust laws.

Regarding general business practices, the contractor must comply with honest accounting practices if it's privately held. The contractor's financial statements must comply with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. It must handle customer complaints in a timely and fair manner. It must have policies to prevent discrimination and harassment. It must make sure that all of its public statements are truthful and that it protects proprietary interests of customers. It must be involved in civic and charitable ventures.

What's even more impressive is the lengths that ASA is insisting that applicants must go to document their ethics. For example, under the requirement for ethics training for all employees, the contractor should be able to come up with the meeting agendas and lists of invited employees. The firm's whistle blower policy should be in writing in the code of conduct or in the employee handbook. Anything that involves interaction with customers must be verified by customer letters. The claim that a contractor does not promote itself at the expense of the construction industry could be verified by a letter from a competitor. Its accounting policies and procedures must be in writing. Community involvement has to be proven by news clippings or thank you letters.

It's a bit mind-boggling that somebody would cheat in order to win an ethics certificate, but ASA has taken steps to insure that applicants can't write fake letters of recommendation. Letters from customers, subs and suppliers must be from a firm with which the contractor has worked in the last 12 months and the applicant is not allowed to see them. The letters must arrive at ASA headquarters sealed, with the writer's signature on the back of the envelope overlapping the seal. The recommender has to make himself available for follow-up questions. If it turns out one of the recommenders has a conflict of interest, the applicant is automatically disqualified.

ASA is taking applications for the ethics certificate up until December 12. Additional information is available at www.asaonline.com/Web/Ethics.aspx.

And, as a final note, we're pleased to announce that Candace Roulo has joined the staff as associate editor. A Michigan native, Candace has extensive experience as a freelancer with BNPMedia Co., Troy, Mich. She also worked in the marketing department at BNP, writing, editing and producing direct marketing promotions for sales representatives and publishers. Candace is a graduate of Michigan State University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, specializing in public relations. She replaces Brian Wasag, who left for the exciting world of Chicago politics, working as the communications director for a Chicago alderman.

Chicago politics could use a few lessons in ethics too.