Ethical choices are not always black and white. Navigating contracts and bids can be difficult enough without the gray areas of rebates, incentives and kick-backs. It seems lately there have been too many stories in the news about purchasing indiscretions, conflicts of interest in contracts or improper handling of business funds. School foodservice has not been immune to lapses in ethical behavior.

What would you do if you were offered free tickets to sporting events or an expense paid weekend cruise -- if you signed a contract with a company or met purchase thresholds? What if your department was provided with a laptop and special software in exchange for a prime vendor contract? In turn, have you ever been pressured to ask a supplier to provide lunch for staff, because they “owe you”?

What do you think – are these conflicts? Even if you try to do what you think is right, there can still be difficult decisions to make. Sometimes it seems that there is not a "good" decision - just the choice between the lesser of two evils. 

Some professional organizations are offering ethical guidance, particularly in the area of purchasing. The October issue of School Nutrition Association’s SN magazine is devoted to ethics, and includes case studies, advice and reflective exercises. There is additional bonus content online, too. One take home from the SNA information is the suggestion to write a staff Code of Ethics. Review your district (and state) board policy (there may be a district ethics policy that lays the groundwork you need) and look at the CFR section on ethical conduct and the USDA Written Codes of Conduct and Performance of Employees Engaged in Award and Administration of Contracts to start. Then, you can read the actual PSUSD Nutrition Service Code of Conduct featured by SNA to assist you when working on your own district code.

Finally, taking a step back and looking at the situation as a member of the community may also help you make a decision. Does the decision serve the best interest of your students? Does the decision reflect best practices and good stewardship of department resources? The Seven Tests list below can also be of service as you look work through the gray areas into more defined results.

Seven Tests for Ethics” (IIQUEST, 1995)
1. “Is it legal?”
2. “Does it hurt anyone?”
3. “Is it fair?”
4. “Am I being honest?”
5. “Can I live with myself?”
6. “Would I publicize my decision?”
7. “What if everyone did it?