The P&O Ferries scandal is a global problem
The company has a purpose (to “make the world flow and change what is possible for everyone”); a corporate mission (“to connect with the things you love and need faster, smarter and more sustainably than ever”); and a litany of corporate passions, including inclusive growth, sustainability and making a meaningful difference in the world. The company, which transports 10% of the world’s trade, is “proud to offer world-class integrated logistics solutions”, but will never forget where it started – in the sea.
And there’s more ! DP World views its employees not only as ‘essential to our success’, but also as members of our ‘corporate family’. This employee-centric policy starts with ensuring that DP World respects human rights and complies with “national and local laws in the countries where we operate and seek to exceed them where possible”. It’s about “creating a work environment where our workforce feels valued”. The company has strong policies on equal opportunity, anti-discrimination, and anti-bullying and harassment. This extends to a commitment to creating a more diverse workforce, even using a “gender lens” to “determine exactly how women are supported in terms of benefits and inclusion”.
DP World codified all of this in 2019 in a new sustainability and impact strategy (“our world, our future”) which was developed in response to feedback from various stakeholders. This strategy “sets out a clear agenda” that includes prioritizing “sustainable and inclusive economic growth” and creating “positive impacts for the people, communities and environments in which we operate”.
Anyone playing CSR bingo with the DP World website would fill up their card in an instant. The big buzzwords are all there, repeated over and over again: purpose, mission, meaning, sustainability, diversity, stakeholder and inclusion. It also has some bonuses, “sound identity” in addition to “genre lens”. But when you apply DP World’s claims to the case of its subsidiary, the wonderful world of “win-win management” becomes lose-lose.
Let’s test DP World’s corporate word salad against the tragic reality of its subsidiary, P&O Ferries.
1. Create a work environment where the workforce feels valued: On March 17, P&O fired 800 employees, many over video, and used former military security guards to escort them off their ships . Some of these sailors had worked for the company for decades.
2. Comply with national laws in the countries where it operates and try to exceed those laws where possible: P&O chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite admitted during a hearing in the House of Commons on March 24 that he breaches UK employment law by firing its employees without going through the process of consultation with unions required by UK law. The company did it consciously, he said, because it knew the union would not accept its restructuring plan. Two P&O vessels, fitted with new staff, have been detained by authorities for failing safety tests.
3. Create positive impacts for the people, communities and environments in which it operates: P&O has deep roots in many UK port cities such as Liverpool, Hull and Dover, as it deals with connecting Britain to the continent for 150 years. Two of his ships are called “Spirit of Britain” and “Pride of Hull”. The company now plans to use overseas workers, under contract with a third-party supplier, who can be paid significantly less than the UK minimum wage.
The only positive impact that P&O seems to have created in Britain is uniting the whole country against it. The Conservative Party is trying to rival Labor in moral outrage. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has repeatedly called for Hebblethwaite’s resignation while giving him a deadline to rehire the 800 employees he laid off. Subsequently, it will make it illegal to employ ferry workers on less than minimum wage. The British government is also reviewing its contracts with P&O, although it is hampered in negotiations by the fact that DP World operates sea terminals at Southampton and London Gateway, which have been chosen to become free ports and therefore jewels of the “race to the top” of government. agenda.
DP World’s business model demonstrates two things. The first is that the latest version of CSR, which emphasizes stakeholders, business purpose and sustainability, is going global. The second is that corporate language has less and less to do with reality. Even leaving aside the outrageous behavior of P&O, there is a depressingly long list of discrepancies between theory and reality. DP World speaks eloquently about diversity. But it is a public enterprise in a traditional Gulf society that could be described as a male-dominated “tribal autocracy”. The non-executive directors of the company are all men. To his credit, Mark Russell, one of those directors, resigned in protest at P&O’s behavior,
Does it really matter? I think so. The world is suffering from a widespread crisis of trust in institutions that, at best, leads to public cynicism and, at worst, fuels populist revolts against a distant and supposedly deceitful establishment. Yet sound institutions are what set us apart from authoritarian states like Russia or failing states like Afghanistan. Companies that speak a language that has little to do with reality not only undermine self-confidence; they undermine confidence in the whole capitalist system.
More other writers on Bloomberg Opinion:
• P&O shows how companies buy their way around labor laws: Paul J. Davies
Priti Patel echoes Britain saying ‘no! » : Adrian Wooldridge
• Can the UK Conservatives afford to be a low-tax party again? : Therese Raphael
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Editorial Board or of Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Adrian Wooldridge is a global economics columnist for Bloomberg Opinion. He was previously a writer at The Economist. His latest book is “The Aristocracy of Talent: How Meritocracy Made the Modern World”.