Ethics at Unisys: Ethics Worth the Cost

by Max A. Lebow

      “Ethics is at the heart of our reputation as a corporation. It defines how we do business and why people want to do business with us.”


    -from the Unisys Ethics Awareness Program

A lofty statement to be sure? But one which is backed by actions and policies designed to make it a reality.

Of course, actions taken by employees to ensure ethical conduct create a cost for the corporation in terms of time and out of pocket expenses. However, the Corporation justifies the expense by looking at the impact of unethical behavior: a loss of customer trust, poor employee morale, and potential legal liability.

The Corporation’s policies reflect many different ways to honor high ethical standards. In the spirit of “make a set time for your learning,” (Ethics of Our Fathers, Pirke Avot), Unisys Corporation holds ethics awareness sessions at least once a year. At these sessions, employees hear an introduction from their managers, view a video presentation, discuss the issues in the video and receive a copy of the corporate ethics policy.

Corporate facilitators ensure that the managers who introduce the awareness sessions prepare remarks that focus on their own commitment to maintaining high ethical standards, particularly in the areas over which they have managerial authority. Also they request examples that are directly relevant to employees’ current assignments. Employees addressed in this way understand that ethical behavior is something that their manager expects every day.

The video contains discussions of situations that highlight current areas of concern, such as conflict of interest, “sweetheart” contracts, bribery, or petty theft (for example, using the company copiers for personal copying). The video includes remarks from the chairman, corporate counsel and employees. A new video is produced each year to ensure that the information is current.

After viewing the video, employees discuss the issues raised, and any other ethical concerns they may have. Managers and facilitators encourage all employees to raise any concerns they may have at the meeting, or in writing on forms provided. Employees may fill out forms anonymously if they wish.

The company keeps records of these sessions to ensure that all employees have attended. Also facilitators ask employees to acknowledge, in writing, that they have read and understand the corporate ethics policy.

Within the overall Unisys framework, System Certification is a small group of Conformance Engineers with whom I work. Our team meets on a weekly basis to discuss areas of concern including ethics, quality, schedules, etc.

Recently, our team faced a problem of needing new software to grow our Internet service offering. Most people are familiar with the “shrink-wrapped” software available at a software store, computer store, or to a growing extent at office supply stores.

“Freeware” and “shareware” are obtained by copying from a bulletin board or on-line services such as America Online, or directly from the Internet. The author or publisher of freeware makes the software available without charge. In the case of shareware, the software is free for a specified trial period, and then must be purchased or disposed of.

The software our team needed was freeware and shareware. We immediately looked for what actions we could take to be sure we maintain a high ethical standard, and live up to our responsibilities regarding shareware and freeware. This was in line with our long-standing commitment to (I) respect people and processes, (2) take responsibility for our work, and (3) be truthful, open and honest.

We were aware of Unisys corporate ethics policy, which naturally forbids stealing software, or shareware. Company policy requires that employees obtain their manager’s permission, in writing, in order to use each particular piece of freeware. This material control is important. Even freeware may be distributed with conditions, such as not erasing a copyright notice, or not altering the software. Not respecting the copyright holder’s conditions for free distribution is clearly unethical and may fall into the category of “gneivas daas,” theft of opinion, or deliberately misleading one’s fellow.

Each individual employee is charged with making sure his or her computer contains no pirated, stolen or illegally copied software. This is accomplished by showing for each software program on each computer, how the rights to that software were obtained Company records include the details of each software purchase.

To be sure we complied with the company policy, we decided to audit every PC twice per year. The auditor scans each engineer’s PC and produces a list of all software that resides on it. The auditor then checks the list against the list of permitted software that the auditor maintains. Any “suspect” software is listed in a report to the engineer who must then justify the use of that software, and resolve any exceptions to policy.

The time and materials expended to make sure we comply with the company’s ethical Standards add up to a lot of money. We view the expense as necessary, however, to maintain high ethical conduct and to foster the creative energies of shareware and freeware authors. Most important we do this for our own satisfaction. By maintaining high ethical standards we earn our livelihood respectably (parnasa bechavod).
Max A. Lebow works at Unisys.