OBEYING the law is not enough when it comes to acceptable business standards, 300 of the territory's top executives were told yesterday.
People had to go beyond their law-abiding duties if they wanted to be considered as acting ethically, they were advised at the first conference on business ethics, held at Hong Kong's Grand Hyatt hotel.
''Law and ethics are not the same - ethics are standards to an extent above the law,'' said Gary Edwards, president of the Washington-based Ethics Resource Centre.
He said ethics was an increasingly important topic for business communities worldwide, and that businesses could not afford to do business dishonourably.
Even during recessions, customers and employees had choices, and did not have to deal with companies they did not trust.
The half-day conference was designed to bring business leaders together to draft a guide for companies when developing their respective codes of conduct.
Paul Cheng Ming-fun, chairman of the organising committee, said: ''Ethics is a fundamental issue in business that many don't think about.
''This is the private sector responding to the Governor's address, to also get [businesses] to do their part.'' At the conference, Governor Chris Patten reiterated the need for preventative measures against corruption, originally aired in his policy address in October last year.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) responded by backing the conference. Mr Cheng said the business community would attempt self-regulation, and the ICAC would ''lend a hand''.
While the guidelines were general and predictable, the response from participants was positive.
Mr Edwards said establishing a code of conduct was only the beginning, and was ''useless unless joined with training and an ethics office - a place employees will feel free to take their questions and grievances''.
He said a different approach to the way people saw and did business was necessary.
He blamed management systems, which put too much stress on results without giving employees adequate time or resources to tackle corruption.
''[Bad operators] speak of business, metaphorically, as a war. It is not a war, and unless that is realised, they will be casualties,'' he said.