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A soft spot for bribery?

Is the government going soft on bribery? It looks as though the government may delay, soften or remove a part of the upcoming Bribery Act that requires businesses to have a process in place to prevent bribery and corruption.

Bribery is already illegal. But it will happen unless companies actively try to prevent it. Yet Richard Lambert’s contribution to the debate was to say: “it’s clear that business has a strong interest in the integrity of the UK’s rule of law, but the drafting has left too much uncertainty about how the rules might apply. It’s just not good enough to say that this can be resolved in the courts.” But then neither is it good enough to say that without suggesting exactly what the law should say – while still being effective.

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Transparent Diplomacy – an oxymoron?

Will Wikileaks lead to the abandonment of secrecy and to diplomacy by twitter? And is that a good idea?

My thoughts on the issue at BBC News Online are here.

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Governing through ISO

Why has the ISO 26000 standard provoked such defensive responses from major governments?

The ISO 26000 process is supposed to produce a standard on social responsibility. And following the Copenhagen Working Group meeting, which I attended, it looks like it will succeed. But the path to get there has been fought tooth and nail by governments – particularly those of the USA, Canada, India and China. In Copenhagen a key issue was the precautionary approach and the extent to which cost-effectiveness needs to take into account the long term. 

What is behind this reaction? ISO 26000 is part of a movement spearheaded by civil society to raise social and environmental standards away from the lowest convenient performance. It defines in some detail the aspirations that organisations wishing to be responsible should consider. But from the government perspective, that looks like usurping their role. And in a way, that is right. Even though the standard carefully excludes the policy-making aspects of government from its scope, this emerging standard challenges them to raise their game.

So perhaps the most significant outcome of the ISO 26000 process will be that it held up a mirror to the world’s governments – and they found they are not quite so pretty as they thought.

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Tiptoeing OECD forwards

The UK government has just released its response to the consultation on the OECD Guidelines. The OECD Guidelines have had a chequered history. Following a consultation exercise, the UK government says its priorites are:

  • Supply chains – to provide practical guidance to multinationals on the application of due diligence in their supply chains, to promote agreed UN and ILO social and labour standards, as well as gender equality (as reflected in the ILO Decent Work agenda), down their supply chain.
  • Human Rights – to provide clearer, practical guidance to assist multinationals in respecting human rights, including gender equality, using a due diligence and risk awareness process.
  • Employment and industrial relations – clarifying the Guidelines to make clear that whilst multinationals should conform to the host country’s law, they should also take into account the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.
    Environment – expansion of the existing recommendations specifically to address the issue of climate change.
  • Consumer Interests – expansion of the current consumer chapter to give favourable consideration to additional wording on improving consumers’ education.
  • Functional equivalence – to provide more detailed (non-prescriptive) guidance on: the structure of NCPs; the NCP complaints process; the issue of parallel proceedings; and follow-up to final statements by NCPs (in line with the UK NCP’s practice).

How far will the OECD move? Its website gives little away…

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When small may not be so beautiful

The UK government has just published its strategy for nanotechnology.

The approach is to encourage innovation and to support more research. Even though some of this research will be into the effects of eating and breathing nanoparticles, there is still a big gap in the thinking.

What is missing is any real encouragement or guidance for industry or universities to adopt a precautionary approach in its research and development. The message seems to be: let a hundred nanoparticles bloom. And someone will pick up the all those tiny particles later.

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Public Boundaries, Private Need?

Should the BBC voluntarily limit itself and commit to doing less to ‘get out of the way’ of the private sector?

That rather presumes that whatever the private sector can do, it should do. So after the BBC: the NHS, the universities, and the rest of the public sector?

We currently have no way, as a society, of agreeing what the proper boundary between the public and private spheres should be.  It would be wise to get that right before assuming that whatever the private sector asks for, it should get.

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Dealing with the shame of Copenhagen

Unfortunately the world’s major powers at Copenhagen forgot to ask the planet to sign up to the Accord. So while the ‘world’s leaders’ heroically managed to save face, they haven’t managed to save the world (or our place in it). But still, saving face is apparently one step towards saving the world…if only the journey wasn’t a marathon and we weren’t already late.

Trying to be positive: one thing Copenhagen has achieved is to make the lack of planetary governance plain for all to see. It is no good blaming the chaos of Copenhagen on developing countries, as Brown and Milliband have done. Chaos may be inconvenient to the tidy PR-dusted process that ‘world leaders’ normally enjoy through the UN, but it has exposed the actual situation we face and the real issues that threaten us.

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Accountability in a drugged haze

Alan Johnson is tackling his political disagreement with the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs by calling for greater accountability from them. He is apparentlyconcerned that they may have been over-stepping their remit. Perhaps there’s a question to answer.

But there is also a question as to Alan Johnson’s accountability to the scientific community. We need to see the audit trail of decision-making that led to the rejection of the Committee’s advice.

Of course drug misuse is just one example of many: consider nanotechnology or climate change. How is the scientific and expert advice for these issues treated?

We need to be able to see clearly how scientific advice is being used – or abused – by the government.

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The Age of Stupid Government

The film ‘The Age of Stupid’ has been enjoying the patronage of Ed Miliband. Apart from the inconvenient fact that the government’s policies don’t square with the message of the film, this is a good thing.

But perhaps Ed Milliband could answer this question: ‘since you are so aware of the drastic nature of the problem with climate change, why are you not telling it like it is?’

In other words, why is there no serious attempt to alert the public to the scale of the climate change problem?

This is dangerous because most people reason that, if there were a serious problem, the government would tell them about it. But since the government is silent (other than saying ‘please insulate your roof’) the problem can’t be all that bad…

Most people aren’t stupid. So, Ed Miliband, what about some leadership from the government?

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CSR and government

At a seminar last week the new CSR minister, Nigel Griffiths, said he liked to think that CSR was written through corporate DNA like the writing in a stick of rock. When I asked, however he could not say whether the writing would also be written through the rock of government. So perhaps this is the writing on the wall for CSR…