Conflict of Interest in the Professions

Conflict of Interest in the Professions

Conflict of Interest in the Professions

Conflict of Interest in the Professions

Synopsis

The notion of conflict of interest is more relevant today than ever. Ethical sensitivities about the relationship between professionals and those they serve is a source of constant debate. This book sets a new standard for work on this perennial topic, collecting a set of practical essays by top applied ethicists on a wide variety of professions and occupations. Some conflicts of interest arise because a profession takes on many roles while serving one goal; others take on one role but serve multiple goals. Some conflicts are internal to the profession; others (such as family or business connections) are external. The essays in this volume address such diverse conflicts in a comprehensive way, in an attempt to make useful comparisons across professions. Containing fifteen original chapters by noted scholars of applied ethics, this volume systematically explores professions including law, medicine, journalism, engineering, financial services, anthropology, film, physical therapy, and literary criticism. An introductory chapter surveys and contextualizes work on the topic, while the concluding chapter offers us a new way to compare conflicts of interest across professions and occupations. Conflict of Interest in the Professions will be of great practical interest to scholars of applied ethics and law, as well as to professionals in the fields discussed

Excerpt

How important is conflict of interest to the professions? the answer is complex. Consider what recently happened to PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC), the world's largest accounting firm. pwc hired an outside investigator (at the urging of the Securities and Exchange Commission) to determine whether the firm was observing its own conflict-of-interest rules. the investigator reported that more than three-fourths of PWC's partners, including thirty-one of the top fortythree, had not properly sanitized their personal finances. the partners held financial interests in businesses that pwc audited; a few even owned stock in businesses for which they had direct auditing responsibility. Many of those partners were disciplined; some were told to leave the firm. pwc suffered a substantial loss of personnel and reputation. Failure to pay sufficient attention to conflict of interest was a disaster for pwc.

Soon after the pwc story reached its front page, the Wall Street Journal (January 19, 2000) ran an opinion piece challenging the utility of prohibitions of conflict of interest. Why not, instead, require auditors to take a long-term stake in any business they audit? An auditor with a longterm financial interest in the business audited would have a strong, personal incentive to ensure that the business is financially sound. the independence that conflict-of-interest rules are supposed to protect is a kind of indifference. That indifference does not guarantee effective auditing. Among important examples of audit failure over the past two decades . . .

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