Business Travel Blog

Browse through our selection of business travel resources and the latest travel industry updates

Duty of Care: Corporate Social Responsibility and Beyond

The words “corporate duty of care” sound so, well, corporate and management-ese that it’s all too tempting to yawn, tick the box and move to the next task. But what could be more important to any company than the welfare of its people? It is cavalier to treat this increasingly serious area as a mere tick box exercise. Any company not having a proper duty of care strategy in place is risking potential human and financial catastrophe. Risk management used to exist only in those companies that engaged in businesses with inherent dangers such as, mining or in geopolitically volatile areas of the world for example, the oil and gas sector. But risk no longer respects traditional economic, political and social boundaries.

Click here to download your pdf


Business travels to new markets
The problems in the Eurozone following the global economic downturn of 2008 combined with improved connectivity has meant that British business no longer concentrates on its traditional markets of North America and Europe for trade and is increasingly looking to emerging economies in previously unfamiliar parts of South America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the Far East.


Locations are not static but changing rapidly
“Safe” and “less safe” parts of the world used to be relatively static. That is no longer the case. Syria and Jordan both had an active trade in tourism not long ago and Kenya and Egypt were once standard holiday locations. Today travel to all of these countries comes with some degree of a warning.


New risks
Major carriers’ flights have routinely used Ukraine airspace for routes between Europe and the Far East; the shooting down of a Malaysian airliner in the summer was a reminder that what is routine one day looks questionable the next. By the same token, trade with West Africa had been increasing sharply but the escalation in cases of Ebola undoubtedly affected travel to and from that region.
For many companies risk management was similar to health and safety" something around which there were statutory requirements about expectations but a matter of where common sense and insurance were usually sufficient.


Business travel and duty of care
The Corporate Manslaughter Act was made law in April 2008. It means that a company may be prosecuted if someone dies in the course of business and that death could have been prevented if the proper measures had been in force.

Moreover, the Act says that you can pursue not only the company but anyone in a position of management control in addition to the directors. If a travel manager were to tell someone to do something that was negligent to advise them to do" as in say, “travel to Liberia is perfectly safe and no precautions need to be taken" that could make the manager firmly liable.

Punishment under the Act may be only a fine but it also enables an individual to be identified as culpable if an employee were killed as a consequence of inadequate processes. The Act has served as a wake-up call to UK businesses to get their processes in order.

So just how is business waking up to the need for a Duty of Care strategy?


Strategy and planning
Any new programme within a company requires a champion and a team to have the vision and then take its strategy from a glimmer of an idea through to an implemented integral part of a company’s working.
Risk management is a vital component of a travel programme, but like travel policy, other departments will have an interest. Senior level support will ensure receptive ears at management level; an involvement of stakeholders from different parts of the business will facilitate buy-in from colleagues.

Travel policy should be reviewed to ensure that the guidelines within ensure that travellers’ exposure to risk is minimised. Some travel policies are constructed with only cost in mind. The financial cost of trips themselves are not the only cost which business travel can incur. The cost to a company’s bank balance" and its reputation" of an unnecessarily lost, maimed or killed employee can be massive.

Points to be addressed to limit exposure to this risk might include

• Preferred booking channel
Everyone books their own leisure travel online so everyone believes that they can be a travel agent. But confirming the details of the trip is only one element of a booking. If all bookings are done through a nominated travel management company or other designated channels that are linked to a data collection tool, the employer will have access to comprehensive data which will ensure that they know where their employees who are travelling on business are in the case of any natural catastrophe or incident.

• Preferred suppliers
Some carriers and some hotel properties may be considered safer than others. The EU has a list of carriers not permitted to fly in its air space and there are similar lists for other parts of the world. Likewise, safety checks are conducted in properties operated by large hotel management companies which might not be on community marketplaces such as Airbnb. Certification in itself is not a guarantee but does demonstrate that reasonable effort was taken to protect employees.
For those that travel to new markets, having a nominated taxi company for ground transfers can reduce the risk of being vulnerable to the vagaries of unknown drivers.

• Travel policy
To many, business class now looks a luxury from a past age. However, if a company is expecting someone to get off a plane and go straight to work after an overnight’s flight, a flatbed in business class might promote health and productivity. And those longer seat pitches may counter any claims arising from suffering from DVT as a consequence of a business flight.

Ground transport is an important area for this. Such items as to whether a traveller should be allowed to drive after a long flight and in which parts of the world they are permitted to drive should be specified in travel guidelines.

Transfers are another area to consider. Many companies aim to save money by booking travellers on indirect flights which connect through foreign hubs. A short stop-over may be acceptable; one of more than four hours might not be.

Policy in regard to domestic and short-haul travel needs consideration too. Very often we think that danger is only in unfamiliar places, but danger can also come from too much familiarity. Most business travel is done on short-haul rail or by car and policies need to be in place for this as well.

For example, the bombings on 7/7 were on the London Underground and on a red London bus during the commuter hour. The victims" and those that experienced near-misses" were travelling to work and business meetings.

Car travel may be common but it is not without risk. More than one employee is often travelling in the same car for a business trip" should the company have guidelines about this in its policy? Also, many companies allow employees to use their own cars for business and then to be reimbursed on a mileage driven basis. If this is the case, the organisation must ensure that it has procedures in place to ensure that all vehicles are roadworthy and properly insured because if the person is travelling on company business, that travel" and any accident that might ensue" will be the responsibility of the company.

• Personalisation
Many travel policies are written from the standpoint of ‘fairness’, namely that entitlement to class of travel or other more attractive modes of travelling such as direct flights is determined by the trip itself rather than by the needs of the traveller.

Some companies make the class entitlement dependent upon the purpose of the journey and/or the time between travel and a meeting. Others are considering different travel policies for women travellers (floors of a hotel, distance from a lift) or travellers with special needs such as older travellers or disabled travellers.


The trip


The policy is one thing; the practice is another. If the business requires that an executive travels to an area of the world which the FCO or security companies rank as having some risk, there are steps that a company should take both to protect itself and its travellers.
• Depending on the degree of risk, a company may give the traveller the option of travelling or not travelling or ban the trip
• If a trip is to take place to a destination which is unknown or thought to have some risk, managers should ensure
1. the traveller is given all relevant information (business practices, local customs, emergency numbers) to ensure safety. NB both a source for this information and a system for disseminating need to be established;
2. the contact information in the traveller’s profile is up-to-date;
3. any necessary health information is imparted and inoculations, if required, are up-to-date; and
4. the traveller understands the communications and evacuation procedures in the event of any disruption or emergency.

During the trip
1. Communication: A company needs to have a process to transmit any relevant information to a traveller on a trip, whether about local disruption that can affect travel, e.g. road closures which could mean a longer transfer time to the airport, or about issues which can affect safety in a region such as the Fukushima earthquake in Japan in 2011.

The process can be email, text or phone. It also can be social media. More and more companies are using closed social networks such as Yammer so that its employees can communicate targeted information to their colleagues.

2. Support: Travel arrangements may need to be altered. Travellers need to be clear as to whether they are expected to do this or to contact their corporate travel department or travel management company.


Duty of care does not end once the traveller arrives back in the UK. The company should still be prepared to help the traveller and the traveller can help the company. The traveller should be screened for any possible health risk and, if they have had a traumatic experience such as being exposed to violence, counselling offered. The traveller can also share their experience to increase the company and its employees’ general pool of knowledge about a region or market with which they may previously had had little contact.


The future
The world is becoming an increasingly fragile place, health scares, political instability and natural disasters are now part of the landscape which travellers face. In addition there is risk inherent in the conduct of business locally as well. Legislation has triggered an interest in duty of care and it is a statutory obligation which every company must address. However, duty of care is not like an insurance policy which can be purchased and then filed until required. It is a way of life and requires stakeholder participation, a strategy to mitigate the risk and a means of communicating how to manage risk. Companies will approach risk in different ways because of the different nature of their businesses and their different cultures. However, what they all face in common is a potential human, financial and reputational risk. The means to minimise this are not beyond reach but they require planning a strategy and to integrate this into the company travel policy and the travel management programme.


Traveller tracking
Traveller tracking, the ability to locate a company’s employees who are working away from base, is an essential ingredient of any corporate duty of care strategy. It means that in the event of any travel disruption, natural catastrophe or incident, the company can locate its travellers and then communicate information and instructions to support their safety.

Companies using the “Portman Traveller Tracking” tool can fulfil their duty of care obligations and be confident that they will always be able to locate their executives away from the office on business trips. Keeping up to date with the latest travel intelligence including iJET risk assessment data means you can support your employees with the latest information.

All the passengers’ profiles and information about any upcoming and current business trips are held on the portal. This enables a corporate travel manager to locate each and every traveller using an airline, car rental, Eurostar or hotel booked through the GDS. Targeted pre-trip briefings for all travellers are sent out at the time of booking so they are prepared for their trip.

The tool also allows managers to review upcoming trips and evaluate any potential risk. They can therefore act to stop travel to risky areas before it is undertaken or put measures in place to support the traveller if the trip is still deemed necessary.

The portal also offers managers the opportunity to send customised messages via text, email or the Portman mobile app. Because the company is in control of the communication it can send out company specific information such as “stay in the hotel” or “get home at any expense”.
If the traveller responds via the app, their location can be identified on the tool’s interactive map.


The role of the travel management company
A travel management company can play a critical part in any risk management company because of the data it can hold and the support and assistance it can provide.

It will be able to collect data from any booking made through it which means that any travellers in an area which becomes risky for whatever reason can be identified. So long as their traveller profile contains up-to-date contact information, they can be communicated with and given information and guidance as to what to do next. The ability to communicate can ensure that travellers have up-to-date information on anything which can disrupt their travel plans and be rebooked onto another flight, if necessary.

There are other ways in which a company could collect such data but the travel management company can use the data and its supplier relationships to put contingency plans for repatriation, or whatever other response is required, into action. For example, during the ash cloud episode of 2010, travel management companies were able to work with their airline partners to prioritise their corporate customers for flight rebookings.

Using a travel management company can also maximise compliance to the policy which the stakeholders have created. “We play a vital role in making sure that everything we do complies with a company’s travel policy,” says Adrian Parkes, Chief Commercial Officer at Portman.

Travel management companies can also offer expert advice on how to combat risk in different areas of travel. As an example, Parkes points out that they advise companies to ban self-drive in certain countries and to create policies that ensure compliance and safety in organisations which have a great number of employees using their own vehicles.

Parkes says that to increase traveller safety the trend now is to seek to have one trip itinerary for a whole trip’s management. “With one booking process you can manage it all,” he says. “If the itinerary is from home and back to home and even includes airport transfers, it can be used to manage the whole duty of care rather than having to do it in separate elements.”

Click here to download your pdf