Many of the revisions and proposed revisions to the UK corporate governance code have been about closer scrutiny for accountability and to raise the bar on standards of behaviour - as have moves on regulation.
This week in Britain we celebrated the centenary of women’s suffrage and (some) women getting the vote. For those of us who have been on social media for years it was also a moment to note how things have changed. Whereas Twitter used to be a useful disruptive tool for the relatively few, it is now a place full of megaphones and businesses and government departments too, who are adept at using it to roll out the marketing and the ‘thunderclaps.’ But who could be churlish about cheerleading for the suffragettes in grim grey February?
Boardrooms all over the world are having to come to grips quickly with the wave of female anger that has been unleashed as women unite to tell their stories of sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace. The #MeToo on Twitter - representing a ‘hands up’ by those who relayed their experience of sexual predators – was fast followed by #TimesUp after Hollywood came together in a bid to exorcise the sexual workplace ethos now associated with Harvey Weinstein.
A warning bell rang out last week with media headlines around audit, consultancy, legal services and governance. The Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi), the country’s securities regulator, banned global accountancy firm PwC from auditing listed companies in the country for two years after failing to spot a $1.7bn fraud at Satyam Computer Services. “The order comes nine years after the scam at Satyam Computer Services came to light and after two failed attempts by PwC to settle the case through the consent mechanism” wrote Live Mint.
The UK’s corporate governance watchdog, the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) on December 5th revealed its proposals for a revised Corporate Governance Code and as promised, it is “shorter and sharper.” I covered the release in my blog Board Talk with the headline UK Looks To The Future With New Corporate Governance Code.
Good corporate governance requires transparency. In South Africa, the latest corporate governance code or King 1V, has put transparency at its heart. By contrast, we talk about transparency in corporate governance in the UK, but we keep coming up against walls of silence. Knocking on such a wall may well reveal that it is, in fact, a door. But it is firmly shut because the powers that be think that it’s “best.”
On a fundamental level, good governance is about good behaviour, and conduct contributes to culture – whether it is business culture, or what is considered acceptable in civil society. In Britain, in corporate governance circles we talk about the need to ‘tone from the top’, with the implication being that those in leadership roles set an example by their behaviour. But when the media headlines are full of revelations about sexual harassment in the corridors of political power, and the country has a female Prime Minister, it all starts to get interesting in terms of the winds of change.
The mutterings have been getting louder since the UK regulator the Financial Conduct Authority first proposed changing the premium listing rules to entice Saudi Aramco to the London market. The pretence of its consideration as a general rule change for ‘state-owned companies’ evaporated even as the announcement was made and hit the media headlines.