A new centre at De Montfort University is offering to help companies check that they are developing their information systems in a socially responsible manner.
Simon Rogerson, director of the Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility said: "One of the things we think organisations should be undertaking is some sort of ethical audit." The centre's launch coincided with last week's Ethicomp 95 conference.
Delegates from 14 countries agreed in principle to set up a global network of centres to develop the debate and provide information on socially responsible computing. Mr Rogerson is working on this with Terrell Ward Bynum, director of the Research Center on Computing and Society at Southern Connecticut State University.
Ethical audits are likely to concentrate on "ethical hot spots" which arise along the way from a company's mission statement to its implementation of computer systems. One such hot spot is the negotiation between users and management over the cost and capabilities of a new system. This often involves extensive political manoeuvreing, according to Mr Rogerson.
The centre will examine the impact of communications on work and the workplace. Besides core ethical issues such as privacy, fraud and obscenity, the researchers will examine broader issues of social responsibility, including the devaluing of jobs and the possible emergence of a gulf between information haves and have-nots.
Mr Rogerson said that the centre will embark on a programme of research, consultancy, education and training which will stimulate debate and help to ensure these issues are kept high on the agenda of goverment, industry and commerce.