#PandemicAndBeyond - 20:20 Hindsight

Blog
02 September 2020

Tags: Pandemic and Beyond, Wellbeing, Remuneration, Tax, Diversity, Artificial Intelligence (AI)

In the first blog of the series, Pandemic and Beyond: the ethical issues, Mark Chambers, IBE’s Associate Director (Governance), introduces the series and reflects on the year so far.

Whatever the shape and speed of the recovery, we will look back on 2020 as a year of unprecedented challenge and transformation. The lasting impact of the pandemic is likely to amplify inequalities in our society (over access to employment, care, mental health support etc). Tragically, for many of the most vulnerable amongst us, the most difficult times may be yet still to come.

The pandemic is far from over and the decisions taken by companies over the next 12 to 18 months will be vital in securing a sustainable future for their businesses, their workforce, their customers and the communities they serve. They will be judged on how they treat those stakeholder groups. Tough times make for difficult decisions, and it is going to be ever harder for companies to find solutions that work well for everyone. Decisions and approaches will be under ever greater scrutiny and will be challenged more forcefully and publicly by a wider range of stakeholders. Companies will need to explain and justify the choices they have made and why options which might have been more successful were discounted. Decisions that don’t work out well will be judged with the benefit of hindsight, and hindsight is always 20:20.

The pandemic has accelerated trends on many fronts, and companies face growing ethical challenges across all aspects of their business. In many areas, being mid-pack will no longer be enough and transparency and openness will be essential. Areas of particular focus will include executive pay, diversity and inclusion, mental health, tax strategy, supplier management, the use of the gig economy, and the impacts of investment in AI and digitisation. And, of course, companies will be judged on the pace and adequacy of their responses to the existential threat of climate change, which has not gone away.

Yet there have been many more heroes than villains in this crisis. For a large number of companies, staff at all levels adapted quickly, embraced unusually high levels of empowerment and showed incredible innovation in solving difficult new problems despite extraordinary levels of uncertainty and pressure. People who wanted to do the right thing but had previously struggled for permission found their moment. Those companies are looking to find ways of normalising some of these successes and, in particular, the positive cultural aspects of the crisis response. 

Embedding a programme of business ethics can be a great way to achieve that and to deliver on the unifying business purpose that has been a vital guide for many companies through the crisis. 

The IBE will be running a series of events through the rest of the year on how business ethics can be a vital business tool during the pandemic and beyond to keep businesses true to their purpose. We want to help ensure that companies can look back on 2020 and see it as a year where business ethics helped them make the right investment in an uncertain future.

Author

Mark Chambers
Mark Chambers

Associate Director - Governance, IBE, m.chambers@ibe.org.uk

Mark brings 30 years of experience from a successful career in business to help grow the IBE’s interaction with boards, regulators and policy makers.

After graduating in Zoology from Oxford University, Mark re-trained as a lawyer and spent his early years at Slaughter and May in their London and New York offices before moving into business. During his career, he managed world-class global functions responsible for governance, legal and regulatory risk management in large, complex, regulated businesses. He was General Counsel & Group Company Secretary at RSA Insurance Group and at Worldpay Group, and held senior positions at American Express and GE Capital. He retired as Deputy Group Company Secretary of HSBC in 2018 to pursue a second career, which also includes non-executive and advisory work. Mark is a former member of the CBI’s Financial Services Committee.

For many years, Mark has had a successful career as a charity trustee, most recently as Chair of Amref Health Africa and prior to that as a trustee of WWF, where he chaired the Audit Committee and oversaw the development of the charity's exemplar new headquarters building. Mark was a finalist in the 2014 Sunday Times Non-Executive of the Year Awards.

The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it. – General H. Norman Schwarzkopf

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