We spoke to Robert Barrington, Executive Director of Transparency International UK about how responsible business practices have progressed in the last few years and what still needs to be achieved*.  

How do you feel expectations for responsible business have changed over the past 10 years?

The expectation is rising but most businesses are laggards in responding, and very few are trying to set the agenda. The danger is that anti-corporate frustration will mount and lead to a backlash that makes the situation for business much worse than it need be.

What factors and incentives do you feel have been the most significant in driving the adoption of responsible behaviours?

Specifically regarding corporate bribery: recent enforcement of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the UK Bribery Act.  In other words, a combination of legislation and enforcement.  In my view, this is far from ideal – we need a society in which we incentivise businesses to act responsibly because it is in their self-interest, rather than cleaning up the mess when they have committed crimes.

What frameworks do you feel are most effective in promoting responsible practices? What should the respective roles of business, government and civil society be?

Government and regulators are ultimately the most effective change agents, followed by investors.  When civil society scores a win, it is big and unpredictable – but civil society should highlight abuses, foresee long-term issues and close loopholes, and should not be society’s main mechanism for regulating poor behaviour.

What are your views on recent developments in responsible business and its governance?

Not enough, not sufficiently supported by boards, not bought into by middle management, not properly incentivised, not valued by shareholders; but a step in the right direction.

What are you currently working on?

Corporate liability for economic crime, abuse of tax havens, integrating anti-corruption issues into new trade negotiations, creating a level playing field for business through better anti-bribery enforcement overseas.

*Please note that the views expressed above are of the speaker and not of Chatham House.