I hope that you have enjoyed the article “Purchasing Ethics: 7 Sensitive Situations.”

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In that article, I describe seven situations that may result in internal customers questioning your ethics. Yet I also write “that is not to say that all of these circumstances are inherently unethical.”

So what do I mean?

Can it actually be ethical to be involved in these situations?

I mean, after all, shouldn’t it be pretty clear how one can comply with ethics if they avoid these situations?

Well, avoiding these situations will keep you out of trouble, for sure. But there is a challenge when avoiding these situations may be doing a disservice to your company.

Take for example the first situation: “A purchasing team member accepted a gift – perhaps even a low-value item like a pen – from a supplier.” Sounds easy to comply with, right?

Well, what if you were beginning a relationship with a supplier in a country where an exchange of gifts of nominal value is an important part of their business culture? Where refusing a gift may insult the supplier and ruin the potentially profitable relationship before it begins. Should you accept the gift?

In these cases, it may be the right thing to do to accept the gift but, instead of personally using it, you pass it on to an internal customer, raffle it off among the non-purchasing employees of the company, or give it to charity. By reading this, you may have realized that ethical compliance requires a little more thinking, huh?

Is that first situation an exception? Are all the other situations pretty cut and dried?


Consider the second situation: “A purchasing team member has a personal or financial relationship with a supplier or an employee of a supplier.” How might this situation be appropriate?

Well, imagine that there are only two suppliers of a certain, critical product: a great performing supplier and a poor performing supplier. What if a purchasing employee was married to an employee of the great performing supplier? Should the company have no choice but to select the poor performing supplier?

That would be ludicrous!

However, care should be taken to ensure no ethical boundaries are crossed. The employee married to the supplier’s employee should disclose to management the relationship. That employee should recuse him or herself from the decision-making process. The company should be careful not to share confidential information about the supplier selection process with that employee. The purchasing department should be forthright with key affected internal customers about the relationship and the steps it is taking to ensure ethics.

If the company follows these steps, ethical complaints are unlikely.

So, as you can see, ethics are not always as straightforward as one might like them to be. This fact can make it easy for some to push the ethical boundaries too far.

But as long as you strive for transparency and ensure that decisions solely benefit your company and not yourself, there is a high probability that you will be viewed as an ethical purchasing professional.

To Your Career,
Charles Dominick, SPSM
President & Chief Procurement Officer
Next Level Purchasing, Inc.
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Charles Dominick, SPSM, SPSM2, SPSM3

Charles Dominick, SPSM, SPSM2, SPSM3 is an internationally-recognized business expert, legendary procurement thought leader, award-winning entrepreneur, and provocative blogger. Charles founded the Next Level Purchasing Association in 2000, oversaw its incredible growth, and successfully led the organization to its acquisition by the Certitrek Group in 2016. He continues to blog and provide advisory services for the NLPA on a part-time basis as he incubates his upcoming business innovations. Charles is also the co-author of the wildly popular, groundbreaking book, "The Procurement Game Plan: Winning Strategies & Techniques For Supply Management Professionals."

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