Working with others: suppliers, strategic partners and agents
We deal fairly and honestly with suppliers, strategic partners and agents, and expect the same of them
What it's all about
The relationship between Serco and its suppliers, strategic partners and agents is key to achieving high performance in our business. So we want to develop long-term relationships with the suppliers and third-parties which are key to our business, based on mutual trust.
We create that trust by treating our suppliers and third-parties with the greatest respect, valuing the contribution they make to our business.
We also expect them to do as we do. That means working to the standards we work to, obeying all applicable laws and regulations, sharing our values and following our Supplier Code of Conduct. Importantly we give them the same rights we have at Serco to Speak Up if they experience unfair treatment.
When we buy goods and services, we don’t just look at the price and value for money. We also consider their social, ethical and environmental impact. That means taking account of the whole life cycle of our purchases, doing all that we can to deliver positive impacts to people and the environment through the contribution and jobs our suppliers and third-parties are bringing to their communities.
We also recognise that small firms, voluntary and community organisations, social enterprises and ethnic-minority businesses are important members of our supply chain.
To understand who we are working with we conduct due diligence on all third-parties before we ask them to start work with us.
Among the key things we need to know is that we’re not bringing any kind of improper practice into our business.
We also need to be sure that our suppliers and third-parties are treating their people fairly, and never exploiting them or abusing their human rights.
We will terminate business relationships with third-parties who engage in questionable or unlawful business practices and report them, when applicable, to the relevant authority.
“Trusting someone in a business relationship doesn’t mean you don’t check on whether they can still be trusted.”
What we all need to know and do
We always clearly define and apply consistent, fair and transparent procurement processes and work within delegated approval authorities.
We always provide accurate information, never try to cheat anyone, and will not work with anyone who does.
We treat our suppliers, partners and agents with respect and deal with them fairly and honestly.
If we need to engage a third-party we always make sure we know, understand and follow our procurement policies and processes including completing due diligence covering screening and onboarding requirements, and contracting and ongoing supplier management.
We only used approved suppliers and third-parties.
To avoid even the appearance of impropriety, we know, understand and follow Serco’s policies on gifts, entertainment, and hospitality. If any third party tries to offer something of value that exceeds Serco’s thresholds and approval requirements, we report it at once. If we’re not sure how to manage the situation, we ask for advice from our manager.
We never turn a blind eye to what a third-party may be doing. If there’s a rumour about any kind of malpractice or anything we see or hear causes us concern, we follow it up, or report it.
We had thought for quite some time about whether we’d go for a big new opportunity. And it was really big.
It was in a part of the world where we knew we had to extra careful against corruption, so we set ourselves to undertake all the checks and due diligence we could.
To make the opportunity work we had to partner with a large local enterprise. They were clearly very keen to join forces with us, and after checking them out so were we.
Then one night my wife and I were having dinner with a local reporter. Her kids went to the same school as ours and she had become a friend.
Without disclosing any details, I told her about the possibility that we’d be working with this local company. She immediately said, ‘Well of course it’s your choice, but I wouldn’t go anywhere near them. Not if you want to keep your hands clean.’
She told me a couple of stories about the company. She made it clear that’s all they were – stories. But she said her newspaper had a whole file of them – all about bribery and corruption.
I knew these were unproven, and I also knew how hard we’d worked to check things through. But it just didn’t feel right to me. So when I told the rest of the team that we weren’t going to go ahead, there was huge disappointment and I could see that some people were pretty angry too.
I often thought I’d over-reacted and had made the wrong call. That is, until it was all over the TV stations and media that the company in question was under investigation for bribery and corruption, and that the charges went right to the heart of the government.
If we’d been working with them, we’d have been dragged into all that too.
Among the key things we need to know is that we’re not bringing any kind of malpractice into our business.
Things were going well, and our client gave us a big new piece of business. We’d been working with two suppliers – long relationships with both of them, and both very good. But we had to choose one for this new work.
I tried to smooth things with the supplier we didn’t choose, but he was obviously bitter about our decision. He got pretty upset and made a couple of wild accusations about his competitor.
So about a week later when we started getting anonymous calls accusing the supplier we’d chosen of using child labour, I knew they were malicious, and the source was our disappointed supplier.
It made me pretty angry – but a colleague said we couldn’t make any assumptions and we had to investigate. Otherwise we could be seen to be condoning child labour, and that could destroy our reputation. I was really reluctant – just thought it was a waste of all our time. But in the end I told him to go ahead and check it out.
It turned out I was right, and he was wrong – there was no truth in any of the allegations. So anyway, I thought I’d better go and see the accused supplier and make sure he wasn’t too upset. Here’s what he said to me:
“You know, I’m so glad you did investigate. I don’t just mean because it’s confirmed our innocence. I mean because it shows everyone – all the other suppliers – that Serco really means what it says in its Code of Conduct about ‘taking the greatest care to ensure there is no human rights abuse’. You’ve made quite a few people think that your standards have to be their standards.”
Then he looked straight at me with such a knowing nod, and he said, ‘That can only be good for the children round here.’
When I got back, I told my colleague that actually he was right, and I was wrong. When I didn’t want to, he had insisted that we ask the question, “Is this what we stand for?”
We never turn a blind eye to what a third party may be doing.
Mohammed was a wonderful supplier – always efficient, always helpful, the go-to” person when there were ‘local difficulties’ and someone who so obviously cared for the people he employed.
I often used to see him in the early mornings. I remember one day we were chatting and he said, ‘I am so proud and lucky to work for Serco!’ He said it with this huge grin of pleasure on his face.
Over the next year or so our work really expanded, and we reorganised a few things. Some of our suppliers started being paid by a local business partner. We were all incredibly busy, but it seemed to be working.
Then one morning I went into work early – and there was Mohammed. He looked so distressed. ‘What’s happened, Mohammed?’
‘I’m so sorry,’ he said, ‘but I don’t know what else to do. I don’t want to cause any trouble, but you have not paid me for the last four months. I have written, I have made calls, I have tried to speak to those in charge, but they do not answer. If you do not pay me what I am owed I shall go out of business and all my people – they will have no jobs.’
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. This wonderful man being treated so thanklessly and unfairly – with such arrogant contempt.
I asked him to come with me so we could sort it out straight away, but he was too worried that he’d be seen as a troublemaker and would lose the contract he had with us.
I went over to our business partner’s premises and walked straight into the department responsible. They gave me some rubbish about problems in the accounts and then actually said that as a local supplier Mohammed was not on ‘priority payments’. I checked, and his contract stated that he would be paid within 30 days of submission of invoices.
I was just so angry. I insisted that I would not leave until the money owed to Mohammed had been transferred into his account.
In the end they agreed, and I went to tell Mohammed. He thanked me and blessed me. But I knew I didn’t deserve that.
I felt so ashamed. He had always done his best for us – and we’d let him down. And I remembered that day when he said, ‘I am so proud and lucky to work for Serco!’
We treat our suppliers and third-parties with the greatest respect, valuing the contribution they make to our business.
I got the phone call right in the middle of a crisis. It was an employee I knew who was working for one of our partners. She told me she was really worried about some of the practices that were going on there. She felt they were both unethical and illegal.
I remember thinking, ‘Not now – I’m too busy for this!’ What I did do was ask her if she’d reported this to anyone else at Serco. She said she had but thought she should tell me as I was someone she knew.
I said, ‘Look, we really care about this kind of thing at Serco. So if you’ve already reported this, I’m certain they will come back to you.’
I forgot all about it and only remembered when I heard that she’d left her job and had gone to work in another country.
And that was that. Until last week – when the company’s unlawful behaviour was exposed all over the media. Apparently they’d been doing it for years, and because Serco is involved in a couple of the projects everyone’s talking about, we’re now being accused as well.
Even though we’re not directly involved, this could really damage us. And I keep thinking, ‘This is my fault. If only I’d followed this up …’
If there’s a rumour about any kind of malpractice or anything that causes us concern, we follow it up, or report it.