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Maybe a little too simple at Sysco …

That’s the cover of the new ethics policy at Sysco (SYY), the big food-service company. The company filed it with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday afternoon, several hours after filing its 10-K.

In the 8-K that included the document, Sysco describes its ethics-policy overhaul in dry, lawyerly terms, saying it was intended

“to reflect a more principles-based approach. Bright-line rules and numerical limits and thresholds have generally been eliminated in favor of rules intended to foster more thoughtfulness about the relevant facts and circumstances. … The Associates— Code has also been revised to enhance overall readability and understanding … and is accompanied with learning aids such as frequently asked questions and examples. Notwithstanding these changes, the overriding ethical principles underlying each provision of the prior ‘code of ethics’ remain substantively unchanged.”

And while the policy document (PDF or HTML) goes on for another 23 brightly colored pages after that striking plate-and-slogan cover, the catch-phrase is a recurring theme:

“Relationships require a strong foundation of mutual trust and understanding that is nurtured day after day. That trust is earned, not just by following the letter of the law, but also by striving to ‘do the right thing’. … For situations not specifically included in this Code, or in Sysco’s other policies and rules, we still expect that Sysco and its associates will try to do the right thing. …

The “Overall Standard” on page 2 begins: “Always do the right thing.” In an FAQ about handling a “lumper service” that seems to be refusing its employees overtime, the answer concludes: “Do the right thing — talk with your supervisor.”

As that suggests, of course, this corporate version of the Golden Rule actually boils down to following explicit corporate policies — and checking with supervisors or the human-resources department when in doubt.

From a business perspective, doing the right thing means following our Code, speaking up, getting advice and complying with the law. There is no way to provide rules of conduct that will apply to every possible situation. … Any activity or relationship that presents, or appears to present, a conflict of interest must be reported to your immediate supervisor before you engage in the activity.”

So kudos to Sysco for serving up a bold and eye-catching catchphrase in their ethics policy. But for the shareholders’ sake, we’re glad to see that the nuts and bolts of the policy goes into a little more detail.

Image source: Sysco Corp.

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