Article 1 of the CPAs' Principles of Professional Conduct-Responsibilities reads:
In carrying out their responsibilities as professionals, members should exercise sensitive professional and moral judgments in all their activities.
As professionals, CPAs perform an essential role in society. They are responsibile to all those who use their professional services. They also have a continuing responsibility to improve the art of accounting, maintain the public's confidence, and carry out the profession's special responsibilities for self-governance. The collective efforts of all members are required to maintain and enhance the traditions of the profession.
One way in which a group of individuals in a profession distinguish themselves from others is to adopt ethical principles to form the basis of their profession's culture. The essence of the first principle of the CPAs' Code of Professional Conduct (the NYSSCPA and AICPA have conforming codes at the level of principle) is that the activities of individual professionals are the building blocks of a profession's culture. This reminder is especially relevant when the public questions the ethical commitment of many actors in the businesses and professions of finance.
Although Article 1 speaks about the responsibilities of individual professionals, rather than their employers, for maintaining and enhancing the traditions of the profession, most CPAs depend upon the firm where they are first employed to teach them the culture of the profession (firms' most-often-cited reason for the experience requirement) and its ethical principles. The management of most firms understand auditor independence rules, and they make a good-faith effort to ensure that their staff is aware of these rules.
How many firms, however, actively teach and promote the principles of Professional Conduct to their young professionals? How many firms actively provide ethical development for their young professionals? One would not necessarily expect a business entity such as a CPA firm to provide such training. Even if the individuals in management take seriously their individual responsibility to maintain and enhance the traditions of the profession, time on the job will likely be spent on other activities.
The CPAs' code, like many other, says up front that the responsibility for following the ethical codes rests with individual professionals rather than the businesses that employ them. Professionals are expected to follow their profession's ethical codes even when these differ from their individual moral convictions or from the demands of their employers. Most professions develop ethical codes in order to protect the group reputation from the variability of subjective moral choices and to provide their members with a support system for decisions that might anger an employer or client. …