Q&A with our CSR Chair Clare Spottiswoode
Why is CSR important and what value does it bring to the business?
CSR is an important differentiator for the group. We find that it has become increasingly important to customers as part of their process for evaluating and selecting a partner. This is particularly so, given the sensitive nature of some of the services our customers require and the fact that many of our customers are large multinational companies with high CSR standards themselves and high expectations of those with whom they do business.
For smaller customers too, our approach to CSR provides them with additional confidence that they are working with an organisation which respects laws and cultures, has high ethical standards, takes care of its employees and is a reliable and dependable partner.
Our global employee survey in 2013 demonstrated just how important working for a company with strong ethics codes and standards is to our colleagues around the world. It helps to attract and keep talented people who are proud to make a difference and of the company they work for.
A strong CSR strategy also helps to reassure investors that they are investing in a company which, in addition to achieving the appropriate level of financial return, conducts its business in a way which is ethically appropriate and in a manner which is expected of one of the world’s largest employers.
How do you prioritise your key CSR activities?
In general terms, it is common sense to identify which areas of CSR are important to our company and will make the most positive contribution to our success. However, we don’t make assumptions about priorities without input from our key stakeholder groups.
Every two years, we conduct a CSR materiality exercise which helps to assess the current market environment, business challenges and most relevant CSR strategies. In 2014 we broadened the scope of this exercise to include more external commentators and stakeholders – seeking views and opinions from investors, NGOs and customers in addition to our internal senior management and board members. This ensures that our strategies are aligned to stakeholder needs and the objectives of our business.
The process highlighted three core priority areas for 2014 – business ethics and anti-corruption, health and safety and human rights. Of course, whilst these are our three highest priority and most material issues, we continue to focus on all aspects of CSR.
How do you manage your CSR activities?
On a day-to-day level, we believe it is important for CSR to be embedded within our business practices and operational programmes. So, whilst we employ a CSR manager to coordinate our CSR activities and to take direct responsibility for a number of the key projects, we do not have a separate team of people dedicated to CSR. CSR matters form part of our business strategies in areas across the group such as human resources, risk management, internal audit and business development.
What level of oversight does the Board have on CSR strategies and actions?
CSR matters are discussed at a number of different levels within the organisation depending on the particular issues and the expertise and level of decision-making required. For example, we create multi-function working groups to work on specific projects, the Group Investment Committee assesses major investment proposals which may have CSR or reputational matters to address and the Audit and CSR Committees receive reports on strategic issues and have the opportunity to input to and challenge CSR activities.
Where matters of conduct are identified – such as in the case of the Electronic Monitoring contracts in the UK in 2013 – the board has very clear oversight of the key issues, investigations conducted on behalf of the company and involvement in discussions relating to actions taken as a result of any conduct issues.
We have regular CSR Committee meetings which are attended by three or four board members and senior representatives from key functions across the group. We receive regular reports on important matters such as health and safety and whistle-blowing and ad hoc reports and discussions on priorities, issues or initiatives which arise throughout the year.
We have regular direct contact with the socially responsible investment (SRI) community, which includes at least one group meeting each year which is chaired directly by me, the Chair of the CSR Committee.
Our CSR materiality exercise incorporates feedback from a broad range of stakeholders, including socially responsible investment analysts, customers, and NGOs. This ensures that at board level we are receiving direct feedback on the company’s CSR performance which is fed into our CSR strategies and programmes.
How do you ensure that your CSR strategies are aligned to industry best practice?
In addition to our CSR materiality exercise and direct engagement with the SRI community, we focus on monitoring best practice in CSR.
We take part in forums and discussion groups such as the UN Global Compact, we meet with other companies with experience in key CSR areas to learn from others who have implemented similar programmes and we seek advice from relevant experts on specific matters when required.
For example, when we developed our human rights policy and guidance, we enlisted the help of Hugo Slim, a senior research fellow at the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict to provide advice and guidance on its development and implementation. We sought further input from leading lights in human rights who had been involved directly in the development of the UN Guidelines for Business and Human Rights and other experts who could assess our plans and provide useful feedback.
In addition, our global employee survey, which in 2013 generated responses from over 380,000 employees representing 62% of the workforce, focused partly on CSR matters. This helps us to understand what CSR means to our employees and to develop future CSR strategies and programmes which are meaningful to them.
Over the last three years, whilst I have been a member of the CSR Committee, I have seen our CSR activities develop and mature into a key part of the business strategy. It has made a significant difference to our business, particularly in how we are perceived by many of our key stakeholder groups. I am proud to have been a part of that journey.