Should Your Code of Conduct Be Public-Facing?

The business case for making your compliance content available to the public

A public-facing code of conduct and compliance policies might sound controversial. After all, aren’t your policies proprietary? And what about waiving privilege? With most corporate compliance programs still relying on company intranet or PDFs to host their compliance content, the majority of the world’s codes of conduct are locked behind firewalls. So with those questions looming and a long-established precedent for private compliance content, forget controversial—public-facing compliance content might sound downright scary.

The truth is, there are compelling business reasons and legal reasons for making your compliance content viewable to the public. A quick Google search yields the codes of conduct for dozens of blue-chip companies like Coca Cola, Microsoft,  Johnson & Johnson—even Google itself. With their vast legal teams and well-developed compliance programs, companies like these wouldn’t make such a progressive choice without good reason. So let’s dive into what that reason might be—and how a company might go about publicizing its compliance content.

Why should your Code of Conduct be public-facing?

The most obvious reason is that transparency is good for your brand reputation, especially after your company has already gone to so much effort defining its values and ethics. The many relationships your company forms—with shareholders, with customers, with third parties, and with the public—require trust, and being transparent about your company values is key to establishing that trust.

“You want to sing from the mountaintops to the world, to your employees, to your consumers, to your vendors…you want everyone to hear consistent messaging on what your company stands for and its values. The best way to do that is making it public-facing,” says Autumn Sanelli, Convercent’s Senior Director of Professional Services.

Consolidating everything in one place, making it available in an easy-to-find, intuitive way…is just getting more and more important.

But is an intangible value like reputation enough to outweigh the desire to keep your compliance program internal? Tronox Holdings, a global company that mines, processes, and sells titanium chemicals, recently made the choice to go public with their compliance content using Convercent’s Ethics and Compliance Portal. We sat down virtually with Jeffrey Neuman, their General Counsel and Corporate Secretary, to find out how and why he overcame the typical lawyerly instinct to keep things under wraps.

“There’s a natural inclination among lawyers to be conservative, but most of the stuff in a company’s compliance policy is not proprietary,” Jeffrey said. “It’s not riskier to show it than not show it, you’re not waiving privilege, so you might as well get it out there.”

Still not convinced? Jeffrey’s got four more reasons why it’s actually better to make your compliance content available to the public.

A public-facing code of conduct helps garner positive ESG Ratings

Socially responsible investing has been around for decades, but in the last few years, power players like Blackrock and Vanguard have led a market-shifting crusade to assess companies based on their Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) credentials. Merely saying that your company embraces ESG practices isn’t enough. The mission and policies of your ESG program must be documented—and made public. Tronox hosts their ESG documentation within their online compliance portal.

“Increasingly, we’re being rated by third parties—Ecovadis, MSCI, Sustainalytics—on our ESG bona fides, and the raters rely heavily on written documents that you make public,” Jeffrey says. “To make their job easier, we put everything in one place that we knew they wanted to see in giving us our ESG ratings.”

Thanks to recent social movements and more informed consumers, ESG matters. “Having gold-standard ESG bona fides is super important,” Jeffrey says, “and the portal is a way of showing how the ‘S’ and ‘G’ are deeply rooted in our corporate culture.”

It helps sway customers

It’s not just shareholders that can be swayed by a public-facing code of conduct. Consumers and business customers are equally motivated to buy from socially responsible, ethical companies. “Particularly in our more consumer-facing end markets, customers are becoming more concerned about these things. It cuts down on the amount of time to point people to our website and say, ‘Here’s our policy on modern slavery, here’s our policy on taxes’ whatever it is,” Jeffrey says.

Autumn agrees. “It’s one step to have your employees believe in your ethics and believe in your values, but consumers aren’t going to buy from you unless they buy into it too,” she says.

Public-facing compliance content helps enable third parties

It’s becoming clear that when it comes to your compliance content, transparency is the key to all sorts of relationships—third parties and vendors included. “If you’re a company who is a vendor, other companies want to see that you’re doing this, and they want to partner with companies who are doing this type of thing,” Autumn says. “RFPs consistently ask about social responsibility and different things, because they want to partner with companies who have like values.”

It helps you avoid enforcement actions

Being able to demonstrate quickly and easily to enforcement officials that you’ve taken all the steps one reasonably could to protect the enterprise is beneficial.

Finally, having a public-facing code of conduct and policies isn’t just about establishing trust across business relationships. It’s also beneficial if the time ever comes that you must prove to government officials that your company has a robust compliance program in place.

“There is reluctance to control information, but to be honest, having been through some significant enforcement actions by government officials, my experience has been that one of the things they look at is your compliance program,” Jeffrey says. “The easier you make it for them to understand the strength of your program, the breadth of your program, and how important it is to your organization, the easier it is to convince them not to pursue enforcement action.”

How do you go about making that easy? It helps to show that you’ve made your code of conduct, policies, and other compliance content easy to find, easy to navigate, and easy to understand—for your employees, third parties, and anyone else with whom your company does business.

“Being able to demonstrate quickly and easily to enforcement officials that you’ve taken all the steps one reasonably could to protect the enterprise is beneficial,” Jeffrey says.

What does a public-facing Code of Conduct look like?

For some companies, making the Code of Conduct public is as simple as including a link to a downloadable PDF on their corporate website. But most who make the jump to public-facing compliance content prefer an interactive, portal-type experience. It makes the content easier to navigate and it generates meaningful data about which content gets viewed, which regions of the world are viewing specific content, and which content is going unseen.

Check out these examples of public-facing compliance portals:

How do you prepare your Code of Conduct and policies to go public?

Start with a content audit. You may realize that certain policies apply to a strictly internal audience. “You can be selective. Some policies we don’t make available for the public,” Jeffrey says. “The tool [Convercent’s Ethics and Compliance Portal] allows us to shield certain content from the public.”

Convercent’s Roxy DeSantis-Nunally works with new customers who are making the switch to the Ethics and Compliance Portal, and recommends evaluating which content should go public, and which can stay behind a firewall. “It’s almost like two document repositories and messaging. One is public-facing and employee content, and then there’s the more policy-level content, the nuts and bolts that might be proprietary that do need to be behind a firewall,” she says.

From there, think about how to make the content visually appealing, interactive, and digestible. User experience (UX) features like flip cards, expandable FAQs, videos, and more can bring your code of conduct to life in a way that a simple PDF can’t. After all, if your content is going public, you want it to shine.

Consider making the switch to public-facing compliance content

As ESG, social responsibility, ethics, and corporate values continue to come under greater scrutiny—and compliance regulations increase in scope and complexity—making your content available to the public is a way to future-proof your code of conduct, policies, and more. “Compliance and ethics requirements are increasing all the time,” Jeffrey says. “Consolidating everything in one place, making it available to employees in an easy-to-find, intuitive way and making it available to the public for the same reason, is just getting more and more important.”

If you’d like to know more about what it takes to go public with your compliance content, or you simply want to see the Ethics and Compliance Portal in action, let us know via the form below. We’re here to help.

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