There is mounting evidence that ethical businesses have the edge, but doing the right thing isn’t always as simple as doing what is legal. How should GCs manage business ethics?

The role of the GC has come of age over the last decade. While the issues sitting in your inbox are more diverse, complex and challenging, they provide direct access to cutting-edge public policy, international governance, political, financial and legal risk which shape business models, dictate how business operates and drive reputation.

In a world where everyone is increasingly interconnected and has an opinion, ethics and trust are issues that keep both GCs and CEOs awake at night. These are concerns worth burning the midnight oil about because they preserve and promote a company’s reputation and its on-going success. When discussing trust, PwC global chairman Bob Moritz says: “While trust is an increasingly challenging issue, organisations that succeed in earning and retaining trust have much to gain.”

As a result board members are increasingly looking to the GC, as a skilled and trusted adviser, to provide guidance about responsible business practices and ethics and help them demonstrate to stakeholders that the company is living by its values.

The next Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) and The Lawyer GC2B roundtable grapples with the important area of business ethics and integrity and will explore both internal and external pressures on the GC in dealing with these issues.

Business ethics and integrity, GC role, in-house mangaement

We will share experiences to better understand how decisions about ethical issues are connected to reputation, and address the different approaches to legal and reputation risk management. For example, how and when should a GC go beyond the “is it legal?” question and anticipate, identify and answer whether “it is right?” Is the issue or practice something that may be unethical today but illegal tomorrow? When operating in emerging markets how do companies handle risks arising from a lack of or the opaque rule of law? Navigating responsible supply chain issues, responding to public benchmarking, managing climate risk and the broad range of stakeholder views all demand the attention of the in-house team.

Keeping up with the rising tide of regulation from anti-bribery to human rights risk disclosure and reporting requires a robust and dynamic risk management and compliance framework supported by cross-functional and external dialogue, which challenges the traditional box ticking mentality. If improper or unethical practice is identified, how do successful companies manage the situation and turn themselves around to build a culture where staff are incentivised and supported to “do the right thing”, speak up and self-audit? Given resources, time, staff and investment in systems, are finite, getting the balance right – where to focus the effort and attention, efficient system design and engagement – is critical.

While the growing “to-do list” can seem intimidating, there is mounting recognition that a robust ethical business culture provides a competitive edge. There really is much to gain and this is an opportunity for the GC to take an increasingly visible and important role.

Now in its third year, the GC2B round­table series hosted by The Lawyer and BLP, have explored the role of GC and sparked debate among 200-plus leading lawyers. Chaired by BLP managing partner Lisa Mayhew and The Lawyer’s Editor Catrin Griffiths the event in November will address some of the ethical challenges that GCs face. We’ll look at best practice risk management and ask what more can be done to help GCs deal with the ‘messy knotty problems’ that arrive in their inbox and require holistic strategic risk management solutions beyond a straightforward ‘legal approach’.

Read the results of our current roundtable on in-house succession planning – how GCs are managing recruitment, talent retention and career progression for their teams, here.

Have your say

We want to hear from experienced GCs who are interested in passing on their knowledge and from GCs new to their role. If you would like to be part of the discussion, please contact Emma Bower at The Lawyer ( to register your interest.