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Clifford Chance

Clifford Chance

Responsible Business Insights

Working towards a sustainable future

What does it mean to be a responsible business in uncertain times?

Reflecting on the last year, Global Managing Partner Matthew Layton and Global Senior Partner Jeroen Ouwehand discuss what it means to be a responsible business in uncertain times.

Matthew Layton: The past year has really challenged us to think about what it means to be a responsible business. In the face of a global pandemic, environmental disasters, civil rights and humanitarian injustices and an accelerated fracturing of the geopolitical landscape, our vision, our values and our commitments to our clients, to our communities and – more than ever – to each other have been tested like never before.

We are a professional organisation, but we are a human organisation first, and it is with great pride that I reflect on the amount of care and passion our people have shown in their work with clients and in their commitment to each other. Our focus on communication was a big part of this. Finding new ways to interact and converse in a virtual environment, we heightened our awareness of individual stories and experiences across our diverse network. This has not only brought us closer together, it helps us to withstand the wider personal challenges that each and every one has faced.

As we seek to find a way through the pandemic to the new “norms” for society and economic growth, we find ourselves in a world that is questioning globalisation and multilateralism and which is beset with complexity. Our role must be to help clients forge sustainable and inclusive futures, navigating a new legal, regulatory and stakeholder landscape. We must use our expertise and our capabilities as conveners, working with others to make a positive difference with our commitment to the rule of law, justice and equality as our foundation stone.

Innovation and being open to the new are important elements of how we do business. This has been even more critical to our business resilience this year, enabling us to continue to deliver the highest level of service to our clients as each new challenge has arisen. But as I look back on the past year, what strikes me most is the degree of agility, flexibility and humanity I have seen in our teams and I think ultimately, they are what has enabled us to remain resilient in the face of so much uncertainty and which will carry us through the period ahead.

The future remains uncertain, and I believe we will continue to benefit from our experiences for some time, reflecting on our learnings and how we can hold firm to our strengths. We must proactively engage with our clients and our peers on these issues too as we nurture our collective ambitions to shape and build a better future.

Jeroen Ouwehand: When we consider what it means to build a better, more sustainable future, it is the fundamental principles of the law that guide us: equality and fairness, access to justice, effective regulation and government, the eradication of corruption, and the promotion and protection of human rights.

These have always been pivotal to how we operate as a responsible business and they play an increasingly important role in our advice to clients, as we help them develop their Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) agenda and plan their individual contributions to the rebuilding of successful societies.

We too are putting a lot of thought into our role in society. Earlier this year, we launched a new global framework to strengthen and enhance our firm’s culture, which is helping us structure our thinking around our purpose and values; how we ensure they are at the heart of all we do, supported by inclusive leadership, clear expectations on our people, strong accountability and reinforced through our talent strategy and metrics for success. This is important work – not just because it’s something we believe in – but because our stakeholders rightly expect it of us.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals, in pursuit of a more sustainable world, are also important to us, to how we approach our client work, and how we run the firm. As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to highlight inequalities, many of us feel a renewed sense of urgency to address issues of injustice, poverty and climate change and drive real societal change. Some examples of these fantastic efforts are captured in our 2020 Responsible Business Report.

We have achieved a huge amount this year, in extraordinary circumstances. But if we are to help our societies build back better, we must stay ambitious and impatient for progress. We must continue to strengthen our SDG commitments – including through our partnerships with clients, governments and legislators – to maximise the impact we and our NGO partners can have in societies most affected by this crisis.

This is where our power lies: in the robust partnerships that enable us to uphold the rule of law, wherever we are in the world, so we not only contribute to progress, we are in the driving seat of sustainable change.

2020 Responsible Business Report

As we try to build a better, more sustainable future, it is the fundamental principles of the law that guide us, as a responsible business: equality and fairness, access to justice, effective regulation and government, and the promotion and protection of human rights.

Our 2020 report demonstrates our commitment to sustainable growth and how it has endured and been strengthened during a period of uncertainty and change.

Explore our report here.