Five Tips on Accepting Gifts – “Ask the Ethicist – Brazil Edition”

The following was originally published in the American Society of São Paulo’s October 2014 newsletter, the Forum:

Dear Ethicist,
Last year during the holidays, I received panettone, Italian bread, from a business contact. Could accepting panettone get me into trouble at work?
Sweet Tooth

Dear Sweet Tooth,
Accepting a gift from a business contact could result in a conflict of interest but unless stuffed with cash or coated in gold, receiving panettone should not get you in trouble since it’s a low-cost consumable. Nonetheless, the details of the situation matter and here are five questions to consider beyond value when accepting gifts.

  1. What was the gift giver’s intent? Regardless of the value, if you believe the gift was given with the intent to gain a favor in return, you should not accept it.
  2. Does accepting the gift violate company policy or anti-corruption laws? Many companies must adhere to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and/or the UK Bribery Act in addition to local laws.
  3. What are your job responsibilities? Employees with procurement responsibilities are generally prohibited from accepting gifts of any kind from business contacts as it could appear to compromise your integrity or influence your work-related decisions.
  4. How often does this person give you gifts? Frequency matters. Repeated gifts from the same people, however small, could appear to be an attempt to gain influence.
  5. Does it feel right? How would you feel if the details were in a newspaper article? If you are uncomfortable with the answer, then don’t accept the gift. This is commonly referred to as the “newspaper test”.

Consult with your company’s office of ethics or compliance well before the holidays to better understand the company’s gift policies in light of your specific responsibilities and which anti-corruptions laws would apply.
~The Ethicist

Send your ethical dilemmas and questions by email to This column was written by Erica Winter, an International Business Ethics Consultant from Washington, D.C.

On Port Fees & Bribes – “Ask the Ethicist – Brazil Edition”

The following was originally published in the American Society of São Paulo’s September 2014 newsletter, the Forum:
The way we handle ethical or moral dilemmas at work is generally determined by our organization’s culture. There are policies, HR, codes of conduct, and legal teams to help us figure these out. Outside the work environment, moral dilemmas become murkier and as a guest in Brazil, we sometimes ask ourselves if something is right or wrong “within” the Brazil context. And so, we launch the Forum’s new column: “Ask the Ethicist – Brazil Edition.”
To kick us off, we’ve invited some AmSoc friends to share their ethical dilemmas, one of which is asked and answered below.

Dear Ethicist,
After months of waiting, my container finally arrived in Santos and the company lawyer said we could either make a payment to expedite its customs clearance or wait potentially for months for the shipment to clear. Though I would be provided with a receipt, I worry that this could be a violation of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act or the U.K. Bribery Act. What is the right thing to do?
Apartamento Vazio

Dear Apartamento Vazio,
You are right to be concerned. It’s tough to say for certain without knowing more details related to your situation, but a payment to expedite your container’s processing through Brazilian customs could be seen as a bribe. Even through a third party and with a receipt, it is a crime to bribe foreign government officials.
Every country criminalizes bribery of public officials. If your company does business in the U.S. or U.K., it may fall under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices or U.K. Bribery Acts. These laws hold companies responsible for the actions of foreign subsidiaries and foreign employees and all other third parties such as agents, consultants, distributors, and joint venture partners.
It’s clear from your question that you believe this may be an improper payment. Either way, it is important to trust your gut. If it feels wrong, you probably shouldn’t do it. Even if it were legal to make the payment, would it be right for your container to be cleared before others who have been waiting longer?
~The Ethicist

Send your ethical dilemmas and questions by email to This column was written by Erica Winter, an International Business Ethics Consultant from Washington, D.C.

DC Council Polices Self on Financial Conflicts of Interest

The Washington Times story, “Ethics rules let D.C. Council members shield outside income” by Jim McElhatton brought my attention to a serious conflict of interest related to financial disclosure rules for DC Council members.  According to the story, DC rules require lawmakers to make public outside income sources only if an employer or client did business with the city government or stood to gain from pending legislation during the past calendar year and they are left to police themselves on conflicts of interest.  This in itself is a conflict of interest.  Pure compliance with the law is insufficient.  Rules related to financial disclosure must be more comprehensive to deter abuses.

Applying the Golden Rule in Business

“All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them, for this is the law and the prophets.” ~Jesus

“That which you hold as detestable, do not do to your neighbor.” ~ Talmud

“None of you is a believer if he does not desire for his brother that which he desires for himself.”  ~ Islam

“Here certainly is the Golden Maxim: Do not do to others that we do not want them to do to us.”  ~ Confucius

The Golden Rule is existent across cultures and religions.  The exact words can be different but the meaning is the same.

Treat others as you wish to be treated.  

This maxim should be the basis for interacting with colleagues, in the workplace.  It’s usually the first thought one has when asked to consider business ethics.  When faced with real-life ethical dilemmas at work, we start to see the “gray” area.  A corporate ethics campaign poster read, “Between right and wrong is a troublesome gray area.”

The way employees handle ethical or moral dilemmas they face at work is generally determined by the organization’s culture or ethical temperature and this is tempered by the top management of an organization.  When the manager does the right thing and makes it known that all employees are expected to do the right thing, the organizational leader gains trust from employees, clients, stakeholders and cultivates an ethical culture.  And, this is also good for business.

Tips for Ensuring Ethical Behavior at Work

“One of the true tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised.”
Chinua Achebe

  1. Do the right thing and help others do the right thing too.
  2. Take responsibility for your actions and encourage other to take responsibility for their actions.
  3. Be a Role Model. We learn from each other.  Working with integrity and ethically  positively affects colleagues and the work environment.  It is especially important for managers to set the right tone and do the right thing.
  4. Follow the Golden Rule. Treat others as you wish to be treated.
  5. When In Doubt, Ask. If you aren’t sure an action is permissible or if an activity in your work, ask a colleague, manager, HR, compliance or ethics officer.
  6. Disclose.  It is important to disclose any potential ethical breach or possible conflict of interest.
  7. Be Informed. Keep informed of policy changes and laws in your field.
  8. Trust Your Feelings.  If a situation feels uncomfortable or wrong, check it out.
  9. Respect Differences. We are all different.  Respect other’s culture, language, history, and ask questions and listen when you don’t understand either someone’s behavior.

I’ll be adding more to this section and welcome contributions and suggestions.

Teaching Resilience & Empathy

“I have heard there are troubles of more than one kind. Some come from ahead and some come from behind. But I’ve bought a big bat. I’m all ready you see. Now my troubles are going to have troubles with me!”
~ Dr. Seuss

Talking to your children in an age-appropriate manner about their feelings teaches them to express their emotions and fears. It gives them the language needed to understand themselves, accept reality, move forward and grow.

Talking about moving past negative emotions and overcoming fears, helps children think about solving problems for themselves and to deal with difficult situations.  We can help our children by talking about practical ways to solve problems.

Sharing our own feelings and emotions gives children strength.  It shows them that we empathize with their feelings. It helps them feel heard and understood.

Empathy is taught through modeling and practice.  It is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.  In practice, we can teach empathy by demonstrating empathy for others.  It can be taught naturally using situations arising regularly by talking about what is happening and asking the child to think about how others might feel or how they think they would feel in the situations you are seeing.

It’s important to let children know it’s okay to be angry or afraid sometimes.  It’s how we deal with emotions that matter. In teaching resilience and problem solving, talking through the causes of problems and coming up with practical solutions together help children solve their own problems later.


What changes to cause dedicated employees to betray company confidences?  What causes patriots to commit treason?

Many organizations have policies on the sharing of non-public information.  What changes within an organization’s culture for its employees to betray confidences?  What changes within a one-time dedicated staff member to rationalize the sharing of such documents?

The illegal disclosure of documents published on Wikileaks is an extreme case of inappropriate disclosure, one that can damage relations between governments, cause wars and one that puts a great many lives in danger.  What I would like to examine is the transformation of committed staff into a secret enemy of the corporation.