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 Home >> Our commitment to society

Our commitment to society

Investors are paying increasing attention to the ways in which social, environmental and ethical issues are managed to both preserve and grow shareholder value.

For example, the Dow Jones sustainability indexes rank companies for their success in managing those factors for competitive advantage. During the 2003 financial year, BT was ranked as the top telecommunications company in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for the second year running.

We also won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in recognition of our contribution to sustainable development.

A further manifestation of investor interest is the Association of British Insurers’ disclosure guidelines covering social, environmental and ethical risks and opportunities.

BT’s top-level response to those guidelines is provided in the section on Corporate governance, with further information provided here.

Other parts of this report cover business integrity, corporate governance and employee issues, such as diversity and health and safety. This section concentrates on CSR (corporate social responsibility) governance, CSR risks, digital inclusion, environment, community and business opportunities.

More detailed disclosures on BT’s implementation of social, ethical and environmental policies and procedures are available online in our independently verified social and environmental report.

Corporate social responsibility governance

A Board committee – the Community Support Committee – oversees social investment expenditure and establishes the strategy for maximising our contribution to society. The committee, chaired by Sir Christopher Bland, consists of representatives from BT businesses, two non-executive directors and two external independent members, who have a reputation for excellence in this field.

An internal committee, known as the Corporate Social Responsibility Steering Group, oversees the implementation of our CSR programme. This includes risk assessment, performance management, public accountability, ISO14001 certification – the international standard for environmental management systems – and objective setting and control. The steering group, which makes regular reports to the Board, is chaired by a member of the Operating Committee.

During 2003 the steering group agreed an action plan to ensure that BT’s CSR activities help deliver the BT strategy and established a set of non-financial key performance indicators to provide an overview of BT’s social and environmental performance. The steering group also approved an accompanying set of targets for the 2004 financial year.

BT takes quality very seriously and is fully accredited to ISO9001.

To ensure that CSR is embedded into BT’s commercial operations we have commenced a series of CSR ‘‘health checks’’ of our main commercial initiatives.

These health checks identify specific social, economic and environmental impacts (both positive and negative) and particular CSR risks and opportunities. A report is then compiled, including recommended actions.

In addition, social, ethical and environmental matters have been incorporated into the directors’ induction programme.

We have important relationships with a wide range of different stakeholders, including employees, customers and suppliers. We engage with these stakeholders in a number of ways, including consumer liaison panels, an annual employee survey and a supplier relationship management programme.

We also employ a number of CSR experts who investigate long-term societal trends, identify potential issues that might affect the business and support BT’s commercial activities.

Finally, our social and environmental report has been brought into accordance with the 2002 Global Reporting Initiative guidelines and received a commendation in the 2002 Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) Sustainability Reporting Awards.

Social, environmental and ethical risks

Currently, we identify no social, environmental or ethical risks that would have a material impact on our business.

However, we have identified the issue of supply chain working conditions as posing a potential risk to our reputation. In order to address this potential risk, we have introduced our Sourcing with Human Dignity programme – a collaborative undertaking seeking the active support of all our relevant suppliers.

By 31 March 2003, 16 key suppliers (79% of those targeted) had signed an agreement with BT giving their written support concerning ethical trading.

Over the past two years, 16 initial on-site assessments and seven re-visits have been undertaken in industry sectors where we believe the risk of falling short of our Sourcing with Human Dignity standard is at its highest.

BT’s certification to ISO14001 includes an environmental risk assessment process and the bulk storage of diesel fuel for use in back-up generators at telephone exchanges has been identified as our only significant environmental risk.

Although there are a small number of BT sites where ground remediation is taking place, the cost is not material and so we declare no material contingent environmental liability in our financial statements. In order to minimise any future liability in this area, we are undertaking an £18 million programme to cover tank testing, enhanced maintenance scheduling and remedial works.

Digital inclusion

The digital divide is a key public policy issue and we are working together with the UK Government and the voluntary sector to find effective ways to use communications technology to tackle social exclusion.

In particular, we launched a digital inclusion campaign to support the Government’s aim to give all citizens online access within the next few years and demonstrate how communications can help improve society.

A key element of the campaign is the ‘‘Everybodyonline’’ programme, which has been established in partnership with charity campaign group Citizens Online and is initially focused in five deprived communities. The campaign aims to increase access to communications technology in underprivileged areas and to deepen the understanding of the causes and effects of the digital divide and how they may be addressed nationally.

Through our age and disability action team, we are committed to providing older and disabled customers with access to a full range of products and services.

For people with hearing or speech impairments, our textphone offers easy access to BT TextDirect —the service that enables textphone users to dial direct to other text or voice users. In addition, our mm215 Videophone has improved communications for people who rely on non-verbal communication, such as British Sign Language. Building on the success of our Big Button phone, the range has been extended to include an analogue cordless version with a digital (DECT) version being planned.

 We continue to offer services to protect the telephone lines of people who are vulnerable, free directory enquiries for those unable to use the printed directory, as well as billing, service and product information in a variety of formats, such as Braille and large print.

We are committed to increasing the accessibility of our internet pages and currently offer an alternative text version of the www.bt.com homepage. Our age and disability website, www.bt.com/age_disability, highlights features of products and services that may be beneficial to older and disabled people and is continually updated to ensure that it can be accessed by all customers, regardless of ability.

Environment

In the 2003 financial year we continued to focus on reducing our environmental impacts. We invested £845,000 in our energy conservation programme which, despite the roll-out of broadband, enabled us to restrict our electricity consumption to a 4% increase. A combined heat and power supply contract provided 76% of our electricity needs, saving 274,000 tonnes of global warming CO2 emissions.

Also in the 2003 financial year, we recycled 24% of our total 89,878 tonnes of waste. We received £4.26 million income from our recycling activities, offset against the £8.29 million we spent managing our waste contracts, recycling our waste and sending waste to landfill. The cost of sending our waste to landfill sites was £1.17 million. However, during the year we succeeded in reducing the amount of waste sent to landfill by 1.1%.

In the 2003 financial year we reduced our operational fleet by 9.4% to 33,979 vehicles – still one of the largest in the UK – and reduced our fuel consumption by 11%.

Community

We commit a minimum of 0.5% of our UK pre-tax profits to direct activities in support of society. This has ranged from £10 million in 1987, peaking at £16 million in 2001 and was £8.2 million (including £1.2 million to charities) in the 2003 financial year. BT operations also provided a further £17.9 million in funding and support in kind over the past financial year.

The focus of our community programmes is on big issues where better communication can make a real difference to society.

For example, more than 8,300 schools and around two million young people engagements with the BT Education Programme – a drama-based campaign helping children to improve their communication skills – have taken place. This activity is supported by our volunteering programme which, at 31 March 2003, had 4,000 registered volunteers working with schools.

BT’s contribution to charitable causes uses a range of communications tools, including our telephone network, for disaster appeals and for telethons such as Comic Relief, Children in Need and GMTV’s Get Up and Give. Through our support, we enable the appeals to raise tens of millions of pounds each year.

We are working with ChildLine on a major new campaign to help ensure that all young people can be heard. At the heart of this campaign is our commitment to raise funds to help ChildLine answer every one of the 4,000 children who call them every day.

During the second year of the BT Community Connections scheme (ending in July 2003) BT will award 1,700 internet-ready PCs to individuals and community groups.

In addition, BT people gave £2 million directly to charities during the 2003 financial year through Give as you Earn, to which BT added a direct contribution of £1 million.

Business opportunities

Following a detailed statistical analysis of customer opinion data going back up to 80 months and based on tens of thousands of interviews, we have been able to show that a 1% improvement in the public’s perception of our CSR activities results in a 0.1% increase in our retail customer satisfaction figures.

This is a critical correlation and shows how important it is not only to protect our reputation through appropriate risk management activities, but also to enhance it through our community activities.

Long-term sustainability trends are creating market opportunities for us, such as the use of teleconferencing and flexible working to reduce the need to travel and provide more flexible lifestyles.

Increasingly, BT has to address social and environmental matters when bidding for business. In the 2003 financial year, contracts to the value of more than £300 million required us to demonstrate expertise in managing these issues.

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