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An Ancient Call To Governance Made All Too Real

Posted on July 14, 2013 at 5:50 PM

Oops - time flies. But brief silence here is all due to good things, including sunshine in GB. I consider it an investment in my sanity and clarity of thinking to ensure I take the time to soak some in. 

I also did something everyone should do - I finally got around to contacting and thanking someone who taught me.

After no conventional 'reunion' contact with the University of Oxford for a few decades I sent an e-mail to Baroness Warnock at the House of Lords. Because of her I dropped another part-degree in Economics for Moral Philosophy. She taught me that essential thing for life - how to think. And we had our own wonderful reunion a deux, over tea.

Life is very strange, don't you think? All those years ago, she told me I should write commentary. She then held up a male role model I won't mention, as we both agree now he turned out to be a bit of a racist. But it took getting to 2013, a lot of self-belief after many years out of journalism bringing up kids on my own- and social media - for this to happen. Onward.

Apart from thanking those who inspire us and give us strength as individuals, for businesses we need to take a close hard look at fast-changing world events and the impact they have on each plc. If I had a magic wand I would say every plc should have a 'global strategy scenario' team of the likes of companies like Shell. It's far too late to live in a small familiar network, no matter how comfortable.

It seems to me the world is begging for better governance to be the grounding it needs at a time when global politics is getting very complicated.

Are we on the verge of a new Cold War ? We have the whistleblower Edward Snowden and all the fall-out around who trusts whom - and whether anyone trusts the United States. There are allegations of cyber-crime everywhere. And then there is China - which is sending all sorts of messages out these days. Very recently, it says the executives working for the pharmaceutical company GSK have confessed to 'serious economic crimes' to boost revenue.

I have an awful feeling that governance is going to get horribly embroiled in politics at a time when we just cannot afford for it to do so.  

The immediate solution is to look to laws on governance with more urgency and more detail, and place a clear national - or European - stamp on it. There are signs of his happening. Tomorrow the UK's Business Secretary, Vince Cable, is going to announce steps to crack down on negligent directors and so-called 'shell companies' used for money laundering and tax evasion. 

But tomorrow there will also be further allegations about ignoring rights for economic gain (under embargo).

This Weekend's FT had so many good pieces I felt moved to share on social media that I hesitate to mention another. There was a piece on the Magna Carta - how 'very FT' I thought, and almost did not read it...but I am glad I did, not least because it is written by Peter Aspden.

The Magna Carta is a document on human rights, but I think you could also describe it as a call to governance.

I quote Philip Buckler, dean of Lincoln (from the FT piece in case you don't have access to FT.com and can't access link above) on clauses 39 and 40 "They redefined the relationships between nations and their rulers. The Magna Carta said: no one is unanswerable." (my emphasis)

The FT also carried a 'box' at the bottom of the feature by Phillipe Sands QC, a professor of law at University College, London (same link above). Mr Sands wrote of the Magna Carta: "It’s been a constant ....sword and shield as governments across the globe seek to expand their powers in the name of security."

Sword and shield is what we need in our corporate governance, as it is laid down by law.

Because national political interest could otherwise make a mockery of all attempts to do business with responsibility - and - dare I say it - with honour.

Categories: Ethics, Scrutiny, Accountability