What is a code of conduct?

Updated February 21, 2017

Many different businesses and organisations--charities and non-profit organisations, in particular--have a code of conduct. The code of conduct is used by the organisation in multiple ways. Often, the code of conduct summarises the purpose of the organisation, such as what it is and what it does. More often than not, the code of conduct serves as a powerful message for both members and people influenced by the organisation.

What It Is

A code of conduct is a set of rules or a protocol that explains how people should conduct themselves. A code of conduct often consists of things to do in certain situations and requires certain behaviours.

A code of conduct can also act as a way of presenting an organisation or company's philosophy or ethical approach to the world; for example, an objective or obligation that the organisation pursues in its activities.

What's Included

A code of conduct can include any responsibilities or practices that the organisation feels necessary for its mission. For example, the Red Cross/Red Crescent Societies includes this notion as part of its code of conduct: "Aid is given regardless of the race, creed or nationality of the recipients and without adverse distinction of any kind. Aid priorities are calculated on the basis of need alone." Codes of conduct can also include commands for behaviour, such as the code of conduct for the software maker Ubuntu, which includes "Be considerate" and "Be respectful" as part of its code.

What It Does

There are several roles that a code of conduct performs for an organisation. For instance, codes of conduct act as a way to respond to certain problems that may emerge for the organisation; they are a set of ground rules for an organisation membership. In addition, they also can act as a public face for the organisation, identifying the ethics of the organisation to outside people, as well as the company's underlying motive for existence. They also can be used as a reference when asked a question about why an organisation wants to do something, or about what they're going to do.


Having a code of conduct offers many different benefits for an organisation. If the organisation uses its code of conduct to compare itself with other organisations, it can also be used to increase publicity for the organisation and attract new customers or clients to help the organisation grow. Lastly, the code of conduct also acts as damage control. If a situation occurs that puts the organisation in a bad light, the company can try to spin the situation in terms of an attempt to follow their own code of conduct.

Making a Code of Conduct

When writing your organisation code of conduct, think about the purpose of your organisation. Your code of conduct should act as a guide to advancing the organisation, as well as provide some structure and rules of the road. Try to come to a consensus within the organisation (or a majority vote, if your organisation is too big) about what principles and standards will be covered in the code of conduct.


Because the code of conduct can act as the ground rules of an organisation, they can also be enforced as such. Organizations can use the tenets of the code of conduct to compare the behaviours of their employees and members, and see if they act according to the organisation principles. People who act in a way that violate the code of conduct can be subject to disciplinary consequences, such as warnings, being fired or other consequences.

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About the Author

Jay Darrington has been a professional writer since 2006, specializing in technology. He has published on several online blogs, including iTech24, iPhoneland and Tech101. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in communication technology from California State University.