Unethical gifts that take the biscuit

An ethical postscript to Christmas this week: 2 Sisters, the chicken supply company involved in serious safety breaches last year, sent tins of biscuits at Christmas – to the MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee that held an inquiry into claims the food group changed the slaughter dates to extend the use-by life of its products.

Happily, the Commons had a burst of ethical good practice: the MPs didn’t take the biscuit. They reported the gifts, the biscuits were returned or donated to food banks, and the Chair of the Committee, MP Neil Parish, admonished the 2 Sisters CEO for his “unwarranted attempt to impugn the committee’s impartiality” by sending MPs “unsolicited” biscuits, asking him to:

“respect the integrity and independence of the committee and avoid similar gestures in the future” 

2 Sisters Food Group defended what The Grocer has described as ‘biscuit-gate’

“It was approximately eight packets of Fox’s and own-brand biscuits which we send every year to a number of external stakeholders as a goodwill gesture at Christmas.”

Blimey. Did the CEO, or the PR team, not consider that sending a gift to the committee investigating you was unwise, especially as the issue is still live?

The Committee’s November report instructs “a written assurance that each reform promised to us by the accreditation agencies, 2 Sisters Food Group and the FSA itself has been made, no later than six months from publication of this report” and a three-month update.

2 Sisters’ CEO Ranjit Singh Boparan apologised but denied ‘low standards’ when he appeared before the EFRA Commons Select Committee last October. The report raised concerns through the supply chain as well as of standard-keeping at 2 Sisters. It highlights numerous ethical issues.

Responding to this week’s declaration of the gifts, MP Paul Flynn, an EFRA Committee member, says proudly “Biscuits will never buy us”. He chomped through the potential bribe in his blog:

‘Biscuit-gate’ galvanised EFRA Select Committee members into consternation … Should the favoured recipients be flattered or insulted? Can their integrity be corrupted with hampers?

We self-righteous members congratulated ourselves that we were denied our biscuits because we had done our duty and sharply probed the donor. We were judged incorruptible and hamper-deprived.” 

This is more than a very English storm in a biscuit tin: the ethical point is serious. 

The EFRA report stresses

“The modern food supply chain is incredibly fragile and sensitive. A failure in a single section of the chain can have catastrophic effects on hundreds of small suppliers and farmers.”

The same is true for the ethics supply chain: every single employee, contractor or supplier has an influence.

Ethical behaviour runs right through an organisation, and the tone is set from the top. It’s why we see ethos and ethics at the heart of belonging. Every individual decision adds up to collective ethics.

This means leaders must take responsibility for the actions of the whole company. It also means ensuring that strategy doesn’t enforce an unethical culture. It’s not clear how many senior leaders have been sanctioned by 2 Sisters for the contraventions in its product-dating operations – but it apparently sacked the worker filmed at scandal-hit chicken plant.

Gift-giving may seem a small thing, but it’s a good indicator of the habits and practices of an organisation. What’s ‘OK’ to give, and when, reveals a great deal about ethics – and sometimes that take the biscuit.

 If you’d like your teams to uphold ‘the right thing to do’ in all aspects of ethics, give us a call.