Time to Act

Blog
22 July 2020

Tags: Diversity

Read the blog from our Director, Dr Ian Peters MBE.

The shadow cast by Covid-19 will be a long one, leaving a lasting legacy of harm across economies, societies, and individual lives. But just as there have been some positive effects - most notably a greater sense of community, empathy and togetherness - this period should also be remembered as the moment when we shone a light on current and historic unfairness and inequality in our society. The moment when we decided that the ways of the past would not be the ways of the future. And as the moment when we acted on that decision. 

The Black Lives Matter movement has rightly challenged an already febrile world into positive introspection, and a commitment to change. And companies and the boards directors who lead them have a critical role to play in both of those activities. Because this is a wake-up call not just for governments and societies, but for individual companies, individual company directors, and the business world as a whole. Ethical business practice means acknowledging wrongs, and committing to righting them.  

There is a temptation to say nothing. To look at our past histories and to recoil at what we see. To look at where we are today and to realise that we have left issues unaddressed for far, far too long. And to be too embarrassed to be candid about the unpleasant picture of social scars in front of us. 

But that temptation is a dangerous and a wrong one. Society expects more of business than ever before. The era of profit before everything else has definitely, decisively, and happily gone - and has been replaced by the era of purpose. 

At the heart of that purpose must be action. Action on inequality. A genuine commitment not just to say the right thing, but to effect change. A new willingness to listen, to really listen, to diverse voices. And having listened, to make sure that the voices which have been missing within our organisations are embedded in them. Action is needed to create a culture where speaking up is not an aberration; indeed, not just the norm; but is an absolute requirement on all who seek to lead that they listen to those who have the courage to speak out. 

There is a real choice in front of us at the moment. That choice is all the more pressing because there is a strong likelihood that Covid-19 will make our current inequalities and inequities worse. And there is the real prospect that the cost of Covid-19 could fall most heavily on those least able to bear its burden - the most vulnerable in our society.

So as ethical businesses, we need to make the right choices. What does that mean in practical terms?  

Well here are some of the questions that we believe Boards should be asking of their businesses and themselves: 

  • What aspects of our history do not reflect the standards of today?
  • Have we been open about our failings, and presented our history fairly and transparently?
  • Have we set clear and unambiguous standards for the behaviours we expect today?
  • What outcomes are we measuring to ensure that those standards are met in all of our dealings with our workforce, our customers, our suppliers, and other stakeholders?
  • What mechanisms do our workforce, our customers, our suppliers, and other stakeholders have to raise concerns?
  • What assurance do we have that those mechanisms are working?
  • Are we listening actively to internal and external stakeholders? What could we learn from more active engagement with them?
  • As a Board, are we role-modelling the standards we wish to see? Do we welcome challenge and actively seek out different opinions? If not, why not?

These are not easy questions to ask of ourselves. And if the answers are honest ones, they will most likely be painful ones too. But they are the right questions to ask. And the answers should guide us as we commit to and deliver change for the better -not just in our own organisations, but encouraging all other organisations with which we interact to do the same. 

Underpinning all of this necessary and sadly belated work should be that vital commitment to ethical business practice which is the principal aspiration of the IBE. If we act in a truly ethical manner, then we will address our past; learn from it; transform it from being a painful embarrassment to us, into being a catalyst for us to deliver real change. 

And then real and lasting good will have come out of this uniquely painful period. 

Author

Dr Ian Peters MBE
Dr Ian Peters MBE

Director, IBE, director@ibe.org.uk

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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