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Human Rights Day 2021: Rebuild Better, Fairer, Greener

Catie Sheret, General Counsel at Cambridge University Press & Assessment, shares how the Legal & Business Affairs team is supporting global ambitions to ‘Rebuild Better, Fairer, Greener’ as a way of reducing inequalities and advancing human rights.

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I have been a Board sponsor for sustainability for the past three years, and have had the privilege of helping our organisation develop our strategy in this area to become a growing part of our organisational DNA. I am also the General Counsel, leading our team of legal and compliance professionals. My team has recently increased our focus on determining how we in particular have a role to play in driving sustainable business practices and raising awareness. 

Looking at this year’s Human Rights Day theme, I can see a number of ways in which our team is supporting its global ambitions to ‘Rebuild Better, Fairer, Greener’ as a way of reducing inequalities and advancing human rights. We support colleagues across all parts of our business, so have a very useful overview of many of the activities going on around the organisation, and the products and services being developed and supplied. This gives us a perfect perspective to help in considering the areas most likely to make the biggest impact if prioritised for change. There is increasingly a legal/compliance component to sustainability, such as laws relating to carbon reporting or new taxes being introduced for plastic packaging, on which we will need to guide the organisation, and new clauses appearing in contracts designed to promote environmental responsibility.

Our Business Ethics and Compliance team drive our programme around anti-bribery and corruption, anti-modern slavery and sanctions compliance. They are focused on ensuring the third parties we work with meet our high standards, through due diligence risk assessments, audit work, regular training for them and our colleagues, and through promoting the use of our speak-up hotline and other channels for reporting concerns. We provide guidance on appropriate approaches to the giving and receiving of gifts, donations, sponsorship and hospitality, and help colleagues navigate the challenges of potential conflicts of interest. We also ensure our contracts reflect the high standards we expect of the third parties we work with and provide mechanisms for addressing failures against these.

Another example of our contribution to the ‘greener’ aspect, is our active engagement with the Chancery Lane Project, an organisation sharing best practice amongst lawyers on how to draft net-zero-promoting contracts. I also recently became a champion for an organisation called Lawyers for Net Zero, building a network of in-house lawyers to share ideas and also encourage regular actions. It’s made me think differently and more broadly about how my role as an in-house lawyer, especially as a General Counsel, puts me in a particularly influential position to help Cambridge University Press & Assessment transition to net zero in a responsible way.

I can also seek to influence the suppliers I engage directly. Law firms are in a strong position to be able to influence their clients, or even make choices about who they are prepared to work for or what deals they are prepared to do, if they are really committed to contributing meaningfully to the transition to a fairer society and a low carbon economy. I am starting to have conversations with our key law firm partners about this, particularly in terms of their promotion of diversity and inclusion, and of their approach to net zero.

Author: Catie Sheret, General Counsel, Cambridge University Press & Assessment