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"As Europe plots its Ethics and Compliance course, French University sheds light" - ETHIKOS (2012)

ETHIKOS, Site de référence en éthique des affaires depuis 1987

When France’s Université de Cergy-Pontoise (UCP) considered creating a master’s degree in Law and Business Ethics, it did not find much precedent.

“Benchmarking showed that there were no programs in the world with a master’s program focused purely on business ethics,” says Roxana Family, dean of UCP’s School of Law and Co-Founder of the school’s Chair of Excellence in Law and Business Ethics. “There were modules, but we found no full programs,” she tells Ethikos.

The concept of business and ethics is still a very young one, according to Family. It was still considered young when UCP created the Chair of Excellence in Law and Business Ethics in 2007. “We wanted to bring together experts from various fields of law.”

The Chair gained support from a number of European entities, gaining partners such as L'Oreal Group, EADS and ALSTOM and, more recently, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which collaborated with the Chair in it’s 2011 European Symposium of Ethics and Governance.

These partners have proven invaluable to UCP’s new Master in Law & Business Ethics program (accredited in 2009). “One of the most innovative aspects of our program is that students do their internships at the same time (as they take their classes),” Family recounts. “Students will spend three days at corporations involved in their CSR [corporate social responsibility] programs, their HR Programs, etc.” 

Students typically then spend another two days a week in intensive courses in law and business ethics. Completing the UCP Master program (the university is based about 20 miles west of Paris) takes a bit over a year — with more than 700 hours of coursework.  The program offers two majors: in Finance & Responsible Investments; and Human Resources & Responsible Employment; and two minors: in Environmental & Energy Law; and Compliance & Healthcare.

In addition to their internships and intensive coursework, students travel around the world to learn more about different ethics and compliance programs, and what is being done from a structural standpoint. “Last week we were in the States meeting with organizations and companies,” Family told us in an interview in New York City in late June. In Washington, D.C., for instance, they met with experts from the FBI and the IMF.

Family explained that the Master program is also compromised of short programs and longer programs. The short includes ‘Business Breakfasts.’ “We invite a ‘big personality.’ It can be a CEO or a government official. We pick a topic—like the cost of environmental programs--and they spend the morning discussing this issue with students.”

For longer programs, “We organize a day [long] program that focuses on one or two issues. Since last year, we've also held a symposium, bringing in experts from all industries to focus on three or four issues.”

Symposium at OECD Headquarters

The last symposium took place at OECD Headquarters in Paris over the course of two days. It focused on four themes: Conflict of interests, performance and compensation, rating agencies and social business. Participating experts included compliance officers and judges from the highest offices.  

“The OECD proved very useful for this program,” notes Family. Since the success of the 2011 symposium, UCP has signed an agreement with the OECD to work more closely to create more collaborative programs.  The next European Symposium of Ethics and Governance is scheduled to be held at the OECD in 2013.

The key to success with the Master program is to teach students to have ideas. 

“Alumni can't just be alumni,” says Family. The notion is that those who complete the program go on to become junior compliance officers.

Just who are these students?  Generally most seeking the degree are fifth year law students (in France, legal education starts immediately after high school), with a few coming from business schools.

What issues are they expected to tackle? “They work a lot on anti-corruption, CSR, personal data privacy--they all get a specialization in corporate government and compliance.”

They’re asked to participate in case study programs—four-hour programs in which a compliance officer from a major company presents them with a problem faced in his or her own career.  Students are given three hours to consider how they would respond to the issue faced. In the end, they discuss with the compliance officer what that individual did and why.

The learning trips work in a similar fashion. Students visit companies and learn about the programs they have in place. “They try to find out why they work the way they do,” and if it works for that particular industry. Students see a number of different types of compliance programs and compare them to the companies where they are presently interning.

They see a broad range of approaches.

“Many look at the financial industry--which is very heavily regulated,” Family notes. Financial institutions are typically focused on the ‘compliance’ side of things. “When you go to other industries, you have larger companies and these are more values-based. It gives them the ability to discover the efficiency of the program they're interning with.”

The students complete their internships in human resources or finance sections of their companies, depending on their major. The human resources major is closely related to corporate governance. Students work with company directors of CSR, for instance.  The students who major in Finance & Responsible Investments work with financial officers.

The most important thing that students are asked to take away from their experience is the philosophy of a program—something that is supplemented in their coursework: “They get a lot of classes in the philosophy of ethics, the linguistics of ethics.”

Importance of ‘soft law’

It’s about showing law students the importance of issues that often fall under the category of ‘soft law.’ “Soft law can have the same legal value as hard law,” says Family, who finds this to be one of the big issues in France.

“Employment law is very strict in France. We're still learning what compliance is about,” says Family. “What does it cover? Can there be values and standards we can integrate into our programs?”

— Alexandra Theodore

A longer version of this article will appear in an upcoming print edition of Ethikos

(Posted July 10, 2012)


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