Conducting our business in an ethical manner is vital to our ongoing success. We strongly believe that there is never a right way to do the wrong thing and all our employees are expected to behave in a way that is consistent with our values.
We are a company united by strong values and standards, with our brand and reputation built on this. Corporate responsibility is integral to our ongoing business success as it enables us to adapt to the changing landscapes we operate within.
In our governance practices, we address the wide range of corporate activities we undertake, the policies we have in place and our management structure.
Our governance sustainability agenda comprises eight key areas:
When dealing with business partners, suppliers and customers, or when engaging with public officials, our employees are expected to act in a transparent and fair manner. We choose our business partners and suppliers carefully and avoid working with those that do not meet and adhere to the same high standards.
The key principles we expect everyone to follow include not offering or accepting bribes or improper payments; not improperly influencing an individual; and not participating in any kind of corrupt business activity either directly or through a third party. To help our employees understand what is expected of them we have developed and mandate completion of a comprehensive training course and have published a detailed policy document.
Adherence to our due diligence procedure for the onboarding of third-party agents and distributors continues to be regularly audited, and training delivered by our Group Legal team to all new Finance Directors and Contract Managers.
In the past year we reviewed our Sanctions Policy to confirm compliance with the UN, UK, EU and US sanctions. We also introduced a Group Customs Policy to document our specific expectations in this area.
We delivered an internal compliance programme for export controls and customs in the year and complemented this with an external review of our export control policies and procedures by an independent consultant. As a result of the findings, we have implemented a few key changes to further strengthen our protection in this area.
The Group uses an approved vendor list for the supply of continuous use production materials, which is managed by Group Strategic Sourcing. Our policy is that all key suppliers on this list must complete a governance questionnaire via an online supplier portal. In the year we have focused on ensuring that we have up-to-date governance questionnaires for all key suppliers.
We have continued to remove risk from our supplier base by consolidating our suppliers and ensuring suppliers go through the onboarding process. Over the last year we have achieved a 15% reduction in our direct supplier base; a reduction of 55% since we started this strategy.
Our online supplier portal allows us to store and audit all our supplier documents and we will be expanding this functionality to collect sustainability information and data from our suppliers. During the year ahead our Group Strategic Sourcing team will work closely with WITec to align their policies and processes with the rest of the Group.
We have a zero-tolerance approach to all forms of modern slavery, including servitude, forced bonded and compulsory labour, and human trafficking. Training is available to help employees recognise where there may be risks of modern slavery and human trafficking within our business and our supply chains.
We have a procedure in place to help anyone that needs to report a business malpractice and report any concerns they have. We have further guidance available in our Global Human Rights Policy, and employees can use these documents in their due diligence of suppliers.
In addition, we have a publicly available global Code of Business Conduct and Ethics, which sends a clear message to our employees, business partners, investors and other stakeholders of our business principles and ethics.
Our Anti-Slavery and Human Trafficking Statement can be found on our website. We also submit this statement to the Government’s new modern slavery statement registry.
Our intellectual property (IP) is one of our most important assets; it is key to our success in the market and enables us to secure and maintain a competitive advantage. We have comprehensive policies and procedures in place to protect our IP.
We continue to protect our inventions, brand and designs through the use of registered IP rights. In the year we filed 16 new priority patent applications, an increase of seven compared to the previous year.
As the basis for protecting our trade secrets we have in place a well‑established process for preparation, review and signing of all confidentiality agreements. All employees are able to download a standard set of templates, along with guidance and training on how to complete these templates on our internal SharePoint pages.
Our global privacy standard sets out the principles that guide our approach to handling personal information as a business and all employees are required to undertake mandatory training on data protection.
This year, we have made some minor adjustments to our privacy policies, notices and other internal documents to reflect that the UK has now created its own UK GDPR since leaving the EU. We have produced specific privacy notices and assessments, and supported our HR teams on data protection issues with respect to covid, such as to allow for on-site testing to take place at our UK sites and the collection of personal information regarding vaccination status.
We continue to run training sessions and have updated our guidance notes for our marketing teams to ensure that their lead generation and other marketing activities are compliant with the GDPR and related privacy legislation.
During the year China introduced its new Personal Information Protection Law and we have worked with our teams there to develop a compliance programme to allow us to operate within the requirements of this new legislation. We continue to stay on top of developing compliance programmes around the world to ensure we can respond quickly to any changes made in the data protection legislation.
The Group continues to maintain a focus on cash generation to ensure we are financially stable and we have published our policy within the Sustainability section of our website.