Governance of sustainability
Paul Richardson, WPP’s Group Finance Director, is the Board director responsible for sustainability. Andrea Harris, Group Chief Counsel and Head of Sustainability, has operational responsibility for sustainability. She heads our central sustainability team that develops strategy and coordinates sustainability projects and data collection. It communicates on sustainability matters on behalf of the Group and works with Group functions (such as our Talent Team, Audit, Legal, Real Estate, IT and Procurement) and our operating companies to embed our standards.
At Board level, the Nomination and Governance Committee has responsibility for sustainability.
Environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks are integrated into the Group’s assessment of principal risks which are set out in detail in our Annual Report and Accounts.
Embedding sustainability in our companies
Sustainability policy is set at parent company level with implementation devolved to our companies. The Group provides a clear policy framework through our Code of Business Conduct, Sustainability Policy, Supplier Code of Conduct, Data Code of Conduct and Human Rights Policy Statement and other policies included in the WPP Policy Book. We track progress using our social and environmental key performance indicators.
We want to make sure that ESG risks and opportunities are managed consistently and that our policies are implemented across our companies and locations and with our suppliers. Our internal sustainability advisors are working with our operating companies to review implementation of our standards and to identify and address areas for improvement.
During 2017, we piloted our sustainability self-assessment questionnaire with our six largest companies. This assessed how our sustainability-related policies covering governance, employment practices, environment and supply chain are being implemented and provided insight into the ESG risks, challenges and opportunities our companies face at the local level.
The results have been communicated back to our companies who are developing individual action plans to address any gaps in implementation. We are also using the findings to develop a Group-level action plan which will include on-site assessments, engagement and training for our companies and targeted projects to support continuous improvement on sustainability.
During 2018, our sustainability advisors will be working with our internal audit function to further embed assessment, management and control of ESG risks into the work of our internal audit teams.
Assessing and managing our risks
The Board, with support from the Audit Committee, has overall responsibility for the system – internal control and risk management in the Group. Social, environmental and ethical risks are considered in the Group’s risk identification, management and monitoring processes. Our approach is explained in our Annual Report including a list of principal risks and uncertainties.
Stakeholder views, insights and feedback help us to develop our approach to sustainability issues and to prepare for future risks and opportunities. Our most important stakeholder groups are clients, investors and our people.
Most stakeholder engagement takes place in the course of doing business. We also carry out more formal research as part of our materiality process.
We are developing a stakeholder policy to guide our operating companies in their interactions with stakeholders.
We engaged with investors, rating agencies and benchmarking organisations on sustainability during 2017 including CDP, Dow Jones Sustainability Index, Ecodesk, Ecovadis, Equileap, Ethibel Sustainability Index, FTSE4Good, Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index, Investec, ISS, MSCI, Northern Trust Asset Management, Raiffeisen Capital Management, STOXX Global ESG Leaders, Sustainalytics, and Triodos Bank.
We are included in the FTSE4Good Index and participate in the CDP Climate benchmark, receiving a rating of B in 2017.
We work with clients on sustainability issues, see Client work. Information on employee engagement is in the people section.
Tax revenues sustain national economies. We recognise our obligation to pay the amount of tax legally due in the territory in which the liability arises and comply with all legal requirements. At the same time, we have an obligation to maximise share owner value, which includes controlling our overall liability to taxation. However, we do not condone either personal or corporate tax evasion under any circumstances.
The WPP Audit Committee, which is made up of independent non-executive directors, is responsible for overseeing our policies on tax and regularly reviews our tax strategy.
The Group paid corporation and overseas taxes of £424.7 million in 2017, an increase of £10.5 million on 2016. Estimated employer social security-related taxes paid during 2017 were £673.6 million (2016: £660 million), and estimated employee social security-related taxes paid during 2017 were £398.4 million (2016: £375 million). Other taxes (primarily property taxes) paid during 2017 were £57.3 million (2016: £57.3 million).
We are starting to quantify the wider economic impacts of our business and the benefits associated with our activities including tax payments to governments. More information is available in Quantifying our impacts.
We maintain constructive engagement with the tax authorities and relevant government representatives, as well as active engagement with a wide range of international companies and business organisations with similar issues. We engage advisors and legal counsel to obtain opinions on tax legislation and principles. Where disputes arise with tax authorities, in areas of doubt or where legal interpretations differ, we aim to tackle the matter promptly and resolve it in a responsible manner.
We have a Tax Risk Management Strategy in place which sets out the controls established and our assessment procedures for decision-making and how we monitor tax risk. We monitor proposed changes in taxation legislation and ensure these are taken into account when we consider our future business plans. Our directors are informed by management of any tax law changes, the nature and status of any significant ongoing tax audits, and other developments that could materially affect the Group’s tax position.
Factors that may affect the Group’s future tax charge include the levels and mix of profits in the many countries in which we operate, the prevailing tax rates in each of those countries and also the foreign exchange rates that apply to those profits. The tax charge may also be affected by the impact of acquisitions, disposals and other corporate restructurings, the resolution of open tax issues, future planning, and the ability to use brought forward tax losses. Furthermore, changes in local or international tax rules, for example prompted by the OECD’s Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (a global initiative to improve the fairness and integrity of tax systems), or new challenges by tax or competition authorities, may expose us to significant additional tax liabilities or impact the carrying value of our deferred tax assets, which would affect the future tax charge.
The Group has a number of open tax returns and is subject to various ongoing tax audits in respect of which it has recognised potential liabilities, none of which are individually material. The Group does not currently expect any material additional charges, or credits, to arise in respect of these matters, beyond the amounts already provided.