The Lessons of 2020

23 December 2020

Tags: Pandemic and Beyond, Ethics Programme issues, Diversity, Treatment of Employees

To end 2020, IBE's Director, Ian Peters, reflects on the lessons learnt and looks ahead to 2021.

Two stories have dominated 2020: Coronavirus and Black Lives Matter. As I look back over the year and my first eight months as IBE Director there can be no doubt that these issues have had a significant impact on both the institute and our supporters. Whilst this is not surprising, it is worth thinking about what lessons we have learnt.

Coronavirus has brought about massive changes in the way we live and work. And many of these changes are likely to be lasting. In business it has brought out the best and the worst. Our report on Business Ethics in the News in 2020 notes that the main growth sector for ethical misconduct was general retailers and consumer goods whilst the number of stories relating to poor treatment of employees and consumers saw significant increases. Many of these stories were related to the impact of the pandemic.

But there were many positive stories too, with businesses and their employees going the extra mile to support their customers and local communities. At the IBE, we devoted our Autumn programme to Pandemic and Beyond and saw many interesting examples of positive business responses. These often came from organisations with a clearly defined purpose and well-embedded ethical values. Looking forward, ensuring that we emerge from the pandemic with a fresh and re-energised perspective on purpose and values will be key for the future.

The shocking death of George Floyd led to an outpouring of emotion on both sides of the Atlantic. Whilst Black Lives Matter has dominated in the media, there can be no ignoring the concern that many feel about our failure to address discrimination in all its forms in our society. Smart businesses listen to their employees, their customers, suppliers and the wider community to ensure they are in tune with stakeholders’ expectations and are responsive to changes in the competitive environment. Listening is part of being an ethical business. So, it cannot make sense to ignore the views and needs of significant groups in society. Yet that is what we do when we ignore the importance of diversity.

The IBE’s latest report on The Ethics of Diversity argues that, whilst we have made progress, particularly with regard to gender discrimination, we still have much to do. But this is less about hitting targets or quotas for particular groups in society, it is much more about ensuring that our organisations and their boards embrace and promote diversity of thought and experience. The report makes ten recommendations, arguably the most important of which is: ‘ensure that the company’s push for diversity and inclusion is a strategic and commercial imperative for the organisation’. If it isn’t a priority it is unlikely to happen. What struck me most about our report on diversity is that it is just basic business and ethical common sense. Why would you not do it?

At a time when many businesses are fighting for survival it can be difficult to find the space to devote attention to issues like ethics and diversity, especially for smaller businesses. So I am pleased that the institute has recently launched a new toolkit aimed to make it easier for smaller businesses in particular. The Business Ethics Toolkit is a simple guide for organisations taking their first steps on the ethics journey. It reflects the recognition that we need to support all businesses, regardless of size or sector, in their quest to do business ethically.

Next year at the IBE we will be looking to identify and promote new and innovative ways of applying business ethics as organisations face up to the challenge of building back from the crisis of the pandemic. Our programme will include a look at best practice in how we organise ethics functions, the ethics of managing people and how to manage and measure culture, a key challenge as remote working becomes the new normal. 

Thank you for your continued support of the Institute and may I wish you and yours a very happy Christmas and a better New Year!


Dr Ian Peters MBE
Dr Ian Peters MBE


As Director of the Institute, Ian is responsible for implementing strategy, leading the team and ensuring that the Institute meets its charitable aims of raising awareness and spreading best practice in the field of business ethics.

Ian’s career has spanned business policy, government relations and corporate communications.  He has extensive experience of working at the highest levels with business, government, regulators and the professions.

After studying for a degree in geography at Lancaster University and taking his PhD at Southampton (on the drivers of small business growth) Ian joined the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) as a small business policy specialist.  In 1989 he moved to international public relations firm Burson-Marsteller where he worked for a number of major corporate clients.  Following a second stint at the CBI Ian became Deputy Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce in 1996 where he led the policy, research and communications functions.  From 2001 to 2008 he was Director of External Affairs and Marketing at the Engineering Employers Federation (EEF) and in 2009 joined the Chartered Institute of Internal Auditors as Chief Executive, a post he held until December 2019.

Ian has held a number of non-executive and public appointments including Chair of the Independent Monitoring Panel of the UK Chartered Banker Professional Standards Board, member of the UK government’s Regulatory Policy Committee and Better Regulation Task Force, and member of the Court of the University of Lancaster.

In 2015 Ian was awarded an MBE for services to regulatory reform.

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