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Ethical Dilemmas

Have been approached (on a commendation by an existing client) by someone who as one of a couple of businesses, runs a Headshop.  A Headshop is a business that sells a whole load of drug paraphanalia, pipes, bongs, psychedelic cigarette papers, rather than any drugs themselves.  They also sell products that are 'legal highs' - such as Mephedrone, which became illegal a few days ago, I think.

Much discussion ensues about whether we should act for this guy, who's perfectly pleasant and is not involved in illegal activity.  Use of his products for their obvious purpose is harmful, but then the same is true of a cheesecake shop, a tobacconist or a supermarket selling cheap booze.  Has anyone any experience of these businesses and know just how far over the lines they are?


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20th Apr 2010 14:15

Where is the moral dilema ?

No experience of these shops, but ethically you hit the nail on the head.

Should anti-smoking accountants have corner shops as clients?Should tea total accountants have pubs as clients?Should vegitarian accountants have butchers as clients?

Just where do you draw the line?

I see absolutely no difference between this and any other shop - so long as what he sells is legal.


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20th Apr 2010 17:14

The problem

Well there's two issues:

1.  I'm not 100% sure that there is no sale of illegal substances - I'm just not familiar enough with Headshops to know one way or another.  He tells me isn't but he's not really an independent source, is he?  He has stopped selling Methodrone now that it's illegal (I glean that from his website).

2.  I do have uneasy feelings about commercial activity that encourages something that's harmful and illegal.  I might be an old hippy, but that doesn't mean I'm comfortable about facilitating drug-taking and certainly not at the dangerous end of the spectrum.  I'm fortunate in not having any small shopkeepers as clients but I think if I were vegan then yes, I probably would pass on dealing with a butcher.

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By Luke
20th Apr 2010 17:41

I'd feel uncomfortable

but that is just a feeling, not a rational reason not to act.  That said feelings are quite important too if you're going to be uncomfortable or worrying about it for the years you may have the client.

My reaction would be to work out the likely fee from the potential client and see whether it is enough to overcome my uncomfortable feeling.  I think in all truth I'd rather not work with a Headshop (never having heard of one before) but that is more about my discomfort in dealing with drug related things (i.e. my moral anti-drugs stance) than my worry of being caught out as an accountant working with someone who may or may not cross the legal line.



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20th Apr 2010 18:36

I'm not advocating this - but it raises interesting moral questi

Now having discussed "global warming" with certain posters, I wonder if they could in all concience have garages as clients?   Could a Manchester City fan have a Manchester United fan as a client? 

Or should accountants be like barristers, and have to take whatever client comes along, even if you know they are guilty of the most henious crimes?

Isn't refusing clients because of their trade a bit like refusing to deal with them because of their colour, sexual orientation, or whatever?   And what if every accountant decided not to represent a particulat trade - is it right for them to be thrown to the tender mercies of HMRC ?

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20th Apr 2010 19:01

Some thoughts

In one sense there is no problem in dealing with any client engaged in legal activity.

But there is the possibility that some (other) clients of yours might feel uncomfortable if they know you act for a controversial business.  It's your decision as to how you respond to that possibility (there is perhaps a view that you should take on the client for precisely that ethical reason).

Also there is the possibility that this client's records and the business is more likely to hit problems with the police than would an average, say, butcher.

Or that you yourself might be more likely to feel an obligation to file a Suspicious Activity Report with SOCA with this client than with the, say, butcher.  (Obviously if you formed a suspicion that the client was selling illegal items a need for a SAR would be triggered.)

Are you confident you can deal with these sort of issues (such as being served with a production order under s345 PoCA 2002)?  Even if you are confident, do you want to risk the hassle?

I suggest you think this through and then make a decision (with eyes wide open).

Actually it could prove to be one of your most interesting (even mind expanding) engagements!


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20th Apr 2010 19:27

Dilemmas, dilemmas

Now having discussed "global warming" with certain posters, I wonder if they could in all concience have garages as clients?   Could a Manchester City fan have a Manchester United fan as a client? 

As a genuine Man City fan of decades standing I have many very stupid and misguided clients including some Man United fans - hell I even employ one.  But on your wider point, I know from your past postings that you're a fan of accountants being akin to the 'taxi-rank' concept of barristers.  Which I don't agree with because I am a servant of me and not a servant of the court.

If I considered a client to be an obnoxious or abusive toe-rag I wouldn't act for them, regardless of their religion, sex or sexuality or race (even the Welsh).  Our clients include a stripper, a lap-dancer, and two post op transexuals (not a couple thank God).  Hell, I can even stomach acting for a merchant banker. So I think I will probably end up saying yes - as David says it'll be fairly interesting.  But if I do, it will be done with a caveat that if I get a sniff of any dodgy sales then it'll be a report and a wave goodbye.

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20th Apr 2010 22:55



I wasn't advocating the taxi rank concept - indeed truth be known there are 101 ways to offload a brief you dont want. I do think though that we have to be careful about turning clients away and denying them representation in court or assistance dealing with HMRC just because of our own prejudices and pre conceptions.

As I've mentioned before, we are involved in rehabilitation of offenders, and I have been involved for many years with work assisting the homeless and with "ladies of the night" including training, rehousing, and employment projects. That has taught me never to pre-judge, particularly when you realise that many are from "respectable" families and circumstances which could happen to any of us have led to their situation.


"Our clients include a stripper, a lap-dancer,........."   Posted by MarionMorrison on Tue, 20/04/2010 - 19:27

Are they free to do a stag night next month ??????????


if I get a sniff of any dodgy sales then it'll be a report and a wave goodbye......Posted by MarionMorrison on Tue, 20/04/2010 - 19:27

If you get a "sniff" you might be a little too high to worry about offloading clients.

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