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NOA Calls for United Industry Response on the Ethics Question
by Kerry Hallard, CEO, National Outsourcing Association
Thursday, July 24, 2014

We Brits are an ethical bunch: a recent study by McCann Truth points out that UK consumers are more much likely to consider the behind-the-scenes ethics of a product than our global counterparts. According to the “Truth about Shopping” survey, two-thirds of us take a keen interest, compared to the global average of 50%  …yet we face a stark reality of numerous corporate scandals: Horsemeat. Prawns. Bangladeshi factories. Tax and Transfer Pricing. Accounting discrepancies. Prisoner electronic tagging. BNP Paribas’ “complex and pervasive scheme to illegally move billions through the US financial system,” which according to US Attorney General Eric Holder “deliberately and repeatedly violated longstanding US sanctions.”

Deliberately and repeatedly are the key words in any ethical scandal. Mistakes will be made, errors are a prevailing factor of the human condition. But when does a mistake become a scandal? Where are the lines drawn? And how can you avoid inadvertently crossing them, and becoming the next big “outsourcing failure”?

Most outsourcing companies have not suffered intense media criticism, but those that have found themselves branded “murdering scumbags” or the subject of Select Committee inquiries. Milestones - or millstones - that live long in the memory.

Some politicians with their eye on ministerial roles have already adopted an anti-outsourcing stance - and you can bet they’ll get louder in 2015.  The anti-outsourcing tar brush is a broad one; this is why the NOA believes all its members should work together to offer a unified response on the question of ethics. With a general election coming up, it’s worth letting the ethical British public know that outsourcing is big on ethics too.

In response to a recent government report entitled Ethical Standards for Providers of Public Services, the NOA has begun gathering members’ opinions about how ethical guidance and codes of conduct could help protect the reputation of our industry. Please join our survey here
Outsourcing is batting on a slippery wicket from the off, because many people only associate the word with offshoring and privatisation. Many of these people think making any sort of profit on a government contract is wrong. Others think that civil servants are honest by default, and that private sector companies are by their very nature, underhand and greedy. None of the aforementioned notions are true, or even as black and white as that, but this doesn’t stop their proponents being extremely vocal…and you never know who they’re convincing. 

Ethical Standards for Providers of Public Services recommends that future public sector contracts reflect the Seven Principles of Public Life, and ethics are built into the deal, with providers required to prove that they have the structures in place to support this. The Crown Representatives - ‘minders’ in newspaper parlance - who govern the deals are set to have increased focus on championing ethical values and aligning them with best value for money.

The NOA believes all suppliers of outsourced services, whether dealing with the government or not, should have in place the right frameworks, checks and balances to ensure that mistakes do not repeat themselves often enough to be accused of something more sinister. It also appreciates the value of the 7 Principles of Public Life:  selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership…provided that “selflessness”, in this instance, can be defined as “unselfishness”, that is, not working in unremitting enthrallment to short-term shareholder returns, but rather a top-to-bottom dedication to delighting customers: a stance that will better serve buyers, sellers, workers and end-users much better over the long term.

There are still copious growth opportunities out there, particularly in public sector service delivery, where austerity is the new normal and will remain so for the foreseeable future. A strong united response on Ethical Standards will go a long way to ensuring a bright future for the outsourcing industry, and maybe just a little recognition from the government for the value we create, rather than far-reaching public criticism.

A little arguing back might go a long way. As McCann Truth found, 66% of British people are big on ethics: today’s ethical consumer/ flabbergasted reader could well be tomorrow’s outsourcing buyer, particularly with the zeitgeist for entrepreneurship and record numbers of start-ups being launched en route to economic recovery.

To join the debate on the values our industry needs to align with if it is to continue to grow, please join the NOA ethics survey today. 

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