Public 'in the dark over the political activities of big business'

By agency reporter
November 29, 2018

A new index of 104 multi-national companies, many of whom regularly meet with Government, has found nearly three quarters are failing to adequately disclose how they engage with politicians. Just one company received the highest grade whilst on average companies were ranked 'E' – representing poor standards in transparency.

Launched by the UK national chapter of Transparency International, the 2018 Corporate Political Engagement Index assesses businesses on how transparent they are in their political engagement – this includes key areas such as donations to political parties, lobbying of those in power, the revolving door, public commitment to ethical behaviour and the overall transparency of this information.

Almost four out of five companies were found to have poor standards in disclosing their lobbying and nearly all ranked poorly for controls on the revolving door. Companies generally scored better for their controls on political donations with 60 per cent achieving at least a C grade.

The index is the culmination of a nine-month process in which all assessed companies were invited to submit evidence. During this period almost a third of companies actively strengthened their political engagement policies and another 17 per cent pledged to do so.

Kathryn Higgs, Director of the Transparency International UK Business Integrity Programme, said: “The findings of our 2018 index are definitely a cause for concern. Businesses must be far more transparent in how they engage with politicians or they risk damaging their reputations with the public and in the long-run will themselves lose out. There is a strong business case that companies who are open in how they operate are more trusted by customers, deliver higher shareholder returns, avoid damaging scandals and are more attractive for investment.”

“Despite the general disappointing performance, we are encouraged that a high number of companies engaged with us during this research, many of whom subsequently improved how they manage their political activities. Although there is plenty of room for improvement this shows that small changes can deliver positive results for companies.”

“With so much access to information freely available at our fingertips, the public are increasingly demanding more transparency and openness from governments and business. Transparency is the future and increasingly we will see those companies that fail to understand this left behind. The message to both government and business is clear – be more open about how decisions are made or you risk being yesterday’s politicians and long-forgotten companies.”

Transparency International has also launched a new online tool, Open Access, which allows users to search meetings between UK Government Ministers and lobbyists, including companies. For the first time the public will be able to find this information in one single location. Using this tool, Transparency International is able to reveal that last year companies in this index attended no fewer than 736 different meetings with UK Government Ministers.

Kathryn Higgs said: “Making information about lobbying more accessible allows both government and business to be held accountable for how they engage with one another. Today we are launching Open Access, an online tool that enables the public to easily understand who ministers are meeting with, when and for what purpose. This is a step towards bringing lobbying in Westminster out of the shadows.”

Transparency International UK is calling on companies to design and implement policies and procedures in line with the ten principles of responsible corporate political engagement, as outlined in its guide “Wise Counsel or Dark Arts?”.

* Download Wise Counsel or Dark Arts? Principles and guidance for responsible corporate political engagement here

* Corporate Political Engagement Index 2018 here

* Open Access https://openaccess.transparency.org.uk/

* Transparency International UK https://www.transparency.org.uk/

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