What does the public at large expect from an association that has the work Ethics in its name? What is generally understood by a network? There are some things the public does certainly not expect.

For instance, in a network, networking between members must be facilitated, not hindered, which is what has happened at dnwe. Discussion must be encouraged and not – as at dnwe – suppressed. Insights and experience, arguments and counter-arguments must be remembered and not left to be forgotten, as happens when whole debates are deleted from the dnwe-intranet rather than, at a minimum, being archived.

The moral requirements demanded of people who claim to be working in the area of ethics must be higher than those that may be commonplace in politics, business or academia, rather than lower as has happened at dnwe. Anyone presuming to be engaged in an ethics association must, at least in this function, conduct themselves above reproach.

For instance, it goes without saying that, when discussions are held, people must put their cards on the table: producing proxy votes, previously held secret, at the last minute to reverse a consensus is not acceptable.

There must be no sidelining of members or secretly canvassing for offices, or awarding such offices, behind the backs of the people who put in the work on the ground. The requirement to observe a netiquette must not be abused in order to censure intranet posts that are simply unwelcome or critical.

When the board requests members to submit opinions and ideas, it must be seen to have actually considered these, and not convey the impression, as has happened, that the submissions have been left unread. In the case of criticism or indeed of constructive proposals, the board must express a position on these: it must not simply ignore them. Its position must be expressed such that all members can take cognisance thereof.

Emails send by board members, or their proxies, in matters connected with the association are not subject to secrecy. If they contain contentious material, the member may, and indeed possibly must, publish the material. The excuse that has been made that these are personal messages subject to a (fictional) personal privilege itself betrays the failure of the officers to stand by their words and deeds. A message does not become confidential simply by attaching a standard text to it.

There must be no attempts at exclusion, for instance, as has happened, on the grounds that someone has many years of experience in business. Indeed, in the area of ethics and business ethics, mature reflection such as may come with age should enjoy special esteem.

Democratic shortcomings
In the internet age voting must be by secure electronic means, for instance, as has been done for many years by the Society of Business Ethics. The present procedure with proxy votes, that may have been justifiable in the mid-nineties, is no longer defensible. Should it be maintained, the assumption must be that this is for tactical reasons in the interests of a minority rather than in the spirit of democracy.

It is not the task of the board to dictate what is to be discussed, whether it is the subject of an annual conference or discussions in the intranet. By so doing the board suppresses systematically a hundred other topics which are likely more pressing or more interesting for the members.

When publications are planned with the funds of the members, the latter must be informed in good time so that they can submit articles. It is not acceptable to simply ignore contributions or to reject them on artificial grounds. The purpose of publications is not to serve the vanity of an in-group.

The board must implement the resolutions of the general assembly and not, as has happened, just ignore them.

All of the charges implied above can be supported with evidence. The documentation, except where the board has had it deleted from the intranet, is contained elsewhere (mostly in German) on this website.

The author is a founding member of dnwe.