No longer seen as a mere 'nice to have', many employers are now putting major efforts into building an ethical HR practice. In the post-pandemic world, the climate crisis, the attitudes of a new generation of workers and new waves of ESG-focussed regulation on the horizon make this task more urgent than ever. Corporations across the globe are becoming more aware of their impact on the planet and the need to address a whole range of social and governance issues.
We recommend the following as some of the main things employers need to consider to meet the challenge of being socially responsible in business. Together, they should help ensure you protect your reputation, attract and retain the talent you need and grow your business into the future.
Knowing the law
As a starting point, make sure you keep pace with the law in all the countries in which you operate and that you comply with it, including anything from the rules around health & safety to the rules regulating wages and working time. Be aware that the law changes often and can start to involve duties and obligations that did not previously exist, either at all or in the form that emerges.
Ethical code of conduct
This could involve a whole range of policies, at your discretion, but they might include considering e-vehicles schemes and training on sustainability. They might also include policies on employee activism, including protests and strikes or positive action initiatives, and how the company views those. At the tougher end of the scale, you should include an anti-bribery and corruption policy.
Supply chain due diligence
How do you assess your supply chain and/or sponsors? It is good business practice to have a robust policy about this that sets out what kind of due diligence you put your suppliers through. The possible existence of modern slavery hidden within supply chains is an aspect of this that should form part of any consideration of these issues.
Ethical customer relations
Robust privacy practices are essential, so find out the rules in each of the jurisdictions you operate in. For example, the rules are strict in the EU, so if you operate there, you will need to meet the standards set by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
This covers the many ways in which you make decisions. For instance, how openly do you deal with grievances by employees and disciplinary matters? It pays for your employees to feel confident that if there is ever an issue, you will not only deal with it fairly, but be seen to deal with it fairly.
Are you ready with strategies if your public image goes pear-shaped on social media, whether for good reason or not? How you handle a crisis says a lot about your business. There may be journalists outside the door, but is it right to give them answers to their questions straight away, or is it better to do a thoughtful investigation first so you can be sure of your facts? Then again, if you wait too long to speak, this won't seem transparent. What's the balance here and how do you strike it?
Treatment of employees
This could include policies related to wellbeing of all kinds, tailored to the particular needs of different groups. For example, do you offer adoption, parental and miscarriage leave and how do you treat the issue of the menopause? Do you offer flexible or hybrid working (including working from overseas)? Do you give employees a right to disconnect? What steps do you take to provide for their mental health? Though there may be statutory rules around some of these, many will be up to you to decide on. It's worth taking the time to think them through.
Diversity and inclusion
What does your anti-discrimination and harassment policy look like? Does it take account of diversity and offer training and awareness in these issues? How is gender transitioning at work viewed? Robust policies will give your employees peace of mind, whilst protecting the business. They could also deal with how you manage diverse employee beliefs - and conflicts of beliefs. Diversity within your workforce will help secure the future of your business from every angle. For example, apprenticeships give opportunities to young people to enter the workforce, whilst board diversity policies ensure diversity reaches the very top.
Do you have a whistleblowing policy? The rules on this are changing. The EU Whistleblowing Directive is now in force, and SMEs need to act fast.
This is about ensuring that top execs know how far their responsibilities reach. Depending on the country and the culture, it may no longer be enough just to focus attention on shareholders – there could also be ethical duties towards other stakeholders or even the public at large. Make sure you know how far the duties of top executives extend in each jurisdiction in which you operate.
There are many accreditation organisations worldwide. To stay ahead of the curve, it makes sense to look into this as soon as possible. And you might as well get credit for all the work you are doing.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.