A Guest post from Margaret Ireland, Lead Analyst, Ethics & Compliance Group, at National Grid, Syracuse, New York Area
Reputation damage is the number one risk to corporations right now, and managing the fallout from such harm. 
In terms of the biggest risk to a company, only two years ago reputation damage languished in third place. This rapid advance to the number one spot has many implications for both leaders and their companies.
Social media offers the ability to get messaging out to millions of people within seconds. A company’s reputation can now also be destroyed in a similar timescale. This issue is therefore a central one at our company and we take it most seriously. Protecting it is built into everything we do.
National Grid achieved the designation of one of the “World’s Most Ethical Companies,” in 2013. We’re extremely proud of this result. Our Ethics and Compliance Office constantly benchmarks and monitors our program to make it better.
We have roughly 23,000 employees in the US and UK. We also use the services of thousands of contractors, vendors, suppliers and third parties. And therefore a huge part of monitoring our company’s reputation involves managing third-party risk. How do we do that?
Three years ago we developed a Global Supplier Code of Conduct
This mirrored our internal: Standards of Ethical Business Conduct: “Doing the Right Thing. We hold our suppliers to the same high level of ethical standards we require of our employees and this document helps ensure that.
The Global Supplier Code of Conduct deals with key categories such as:
• Core Values
• Fraud & Bribery
• Entertainment, gifts and cash rewards
• Health and Safety
• Protecting the Environment
• Work and Human Rights
• Management System
• Monitoring and Reporting
Since the code’s rollout in 2011, the Ethics and Compliance Office has held meetings with dozens of gas, electric, energy efficiency and construction vendors to review it.
These are one-hour reviews with contractors. During this encounter we go through the expectations shown in the document and emphasise the importance of the supplier communicating these to their workforce.
We also encourage suppliers to take advantage of the many ways they can raise an ethical concern or seek guidance. Also, on a quarterly basis we email them “Contractor Alerts”. These often coincide with our monthly ethical spotlight topic, if relevant to their workforce.
Our outreach with the Global Supplier Code of Conduct has helped solidify working relationships with our suppliers. It provides them with resources to address any ethical concerns they may have.
Taking such a proactive approach has minimized potential issues that might have occurred if we hadn’t reached out and explained National Grid’s ethical expectations.
Like many Ethics & Compliance offices at companies around the globe we have only a small staff. But our absolute priority is to help our suppliers, vendors and third-party contractors understand our ethical expectations.