BT offshores corporate ethics

BT is by almost any measure one of the UK’s most responsible companies. But as it expands around the world, it is facing the common challenge of transferring its responsible business best practice from the UK to Asia.

BT’s corporate responsibility efforts in emerging markets in Asia have to date focused more on community investment than on business issues, such as climate change, that occupy its time in the UK.

This reflects the relatively small contribution that Asia makes to BT’s balance sheet – at least for now. BT’s £20bn annual revenues today mostly come from the UK. Revenue from India for example will be about £250m this year, although it is growing fast. BT is already the largest foreign operator in the country.

None of the challenges BT faces in emerging markets are insurmountable (see strategy and management, p30). The company has rightly set ambitious long-term goals – it aims to reduce the carbon intensity of its non-UK operations by 80% by 2020. It is equally right to be realistic about what can be done in the short term.

The key for companies wanting to transfer responsible business best practice to emerging markets is to listen to and to support local managers.

Alliance Boots, for example, does this through its global champions network (see p18). Through the network’s “buddy system” responsible business experts from Alliance Boots in the UK mentor local managers in eastern Europe and elsewhere. The local champions pass on tips to a team of regular managers who look after certain corporate responsibility issues. They also report back to the UK on progress against local, realistic targets.

BT, too, has a network of managers throughout the world who handle the group’s community investment and climate change efforts in their countries. These managers do this in addition to their day jobs. They are in regular touch with each other to share best practice between countries.

Changing a culture in a business takes time. Companies wanting to transfer corporate responsibility best practice to emerging markets should follow the example of BT and Alliance Boots: aim high, but keep your feet firmly on the ground.

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