MCA Consulting Excellence Launch and Debate – Business Reputation and Ethics

Last week the Management Consultancies Association (MCA) launched Consulting Excellence, a scheme which will see MCA members sign up to a code of conduct and behaviour. We explained the principles of the scheme here.

It was launched at the MCA's annual debate last week, which was on the topic of "Trust, ethics and reputation in business following Brexit".  Now Brexit in one sense has nothing to do with business ethics, but the panelists made the point that many of the people who voted leave were (as MP Stephen Kinnock put it) delivering a "howl of pain" about the whole economic and political system. Trust in business is at a low ebb, as it is with politicians and other groups seen as being part of "the establishment", and this situation is not healthy for anyone.

Also on the panel we had Ben Page, CEO of pollsters Ipsos Mori, who produced statistics that generally said the public trust business more than we might expect (although we're not sure the audience believed all of his data), and Jonathon Porritt, environmentalist, campaigner and writer. As a founder of the Ecology Party (that became the Green Party), he is still very direct about some of the failings of the capitalist system. But he has matured into quite a "corporate" individual himself, saying for instance that "there are very few people who earn the sort of excessive salaries that the public object to", which we're far from convinced is true. We suspect most of the population don't see the annual £1 million salaries earned by the partners in top law or indeed consulting firms as being reasonable.

The discussion around the need for more diversity in business to increase trust was interesting but perhaps if we had been more on the ball we might have asked Porritt why he serves on an entirely male, white, middle-aged Board of a major business? (That same business is absolutely leading-edge on sustainability issues, it should be said). We're not picking on Porritt though - whilst Kinnock was generally very impressive, he avoided the issue of why the Labour Party has lost touch with the views of most of its natural supporters; immigration was the elephant in the room really. So it was a good debate but might have done with a little more spice and a little more of the audience putting the panelists on the spot!

Anyway, back to the Consulting Excellence initiative. Whilst the MCA obviously has a vested interest in giving its own members a "badge" that non-members can't claim, it looks like a worthwhile initiative and procurement executives should be aware of it when they are engaging consulting firms. It is self-regulating though; so one question for the MCA is what sanctions would they take if a firm was not living up to the ideals of the standard?

But more broadly than this element of self-interest, the MCA is trying to play its own part in positioning business better in the eyes of the general public. As the debate pointed out, business is intrinsically capitalist, but it is to everyone's advantage if companies are seen as having a conscience and a desire to behave in an appropriate manner as good "corporate citizens". Indeed, at the debate, there were various remarks about how the industry (and business more widely) should get better at communicating the good work that is done already, whether that is about employing apprentices, pro bono work with charities or actions linked to sustainability issues .

That got us thinking about how procurement can also play a stronger role in driving public trust in business. We have the good work CIPS has launched around modern slavery, and procurement has played a leading role in developing approaches around sustainability and other CSR initiatives.  But every time a procurement manager demands a price cut from a small supplier without any real cause, or when a firm extends payment terms or demands a "marketing allowance", or doesn't check the provenance of that cheap meat or cheap T-shirt...  those can all contribute just a little more to the wider distrust of business. We'll come back to this theme shortly and look at whether and how procurement can feasibly do more to help drive a better reputation for business.

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