The British Council reaches millions of people every year. What we do and also how we do it matters. This Code of Conduct reflects our commitment to cultural relations work that is ethical, has integrity and has a concern for the wellbeing, inclusion and fair treatment of people. It helps to ensure we build people’s trust and confidence and the reputation of the British Council as a global organisation creating opportunity worldwide.

It sets out the values, standards and behaviours we expect and require from everyone, in whatever capacity or wherever they work for, with or on behalf of us.

This Code of Conduct sets out general principles. It does not cover everything and should be read alongside our policies and guidance, which you should familiarise yourself with. There is a link to these policies at the end of this Code.

The principles set out below apply to all our staff worldwide and must be read and adhered to unless local law restricts this in some way. If you believe such a restriction exists please consult Corporate Affairs.

If in any doubt about any aspect of this Code you should seek guidance from a manager or, for employees, speak to Human Resources.

Sir Ciarán Devane

Chief Executive


You can use the drop down headings below to access each principle of the Code of Conduct. Within each principle you can find links to some relevant global policy statements and internal policies. Aspects of the Code of Conduct are supplemented by the global policy statements and further internal detailed policies and guidance for staff available on the intranet.

Our values

Our values underpin everything we say and do, how we work with people and behave towards them, and how we communicate.

Here is a brief description of what each one means to us:

Valuing people

The world is a diverse place, which is why our work starts by giving everyone the chance to participate. This means treating people with courtesy and respect. By listening and responding in a helpful way, we are able to unlock potential and help people be the best they can be.


Keeping our promises, and being consistent in what we say and do, builds trust. We are always honest and take responsibility for our actions.


Effective relationships are at the heart of our work. It’s a two-way exchange: we learn from all those we interact with and they learn from us.


We encourage people to develop new ideas in an environment of trust. We are resourceful and innovative in our approach and actively seek and present the best in creativity.


We understand our responsibility to deliver excellence every time. Setting the highest standards for ourselves and expecting the same of others means that we stay true to our values.

Principle 1: Equality, diversity and inclusion

Equality, diversity and inclusion are integral to our cultural relations work. This means we commit to ensuring that there is no discrimination on the basis of any of the following: age, disability (including HIV/AIDS status), gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. Our equalities policy sets out more information on this.

Principle 2: Legal Compliance


We are committed to complying with the law in all the countries and territories in which we work. This is a fundamental principle and we must follow it in all our dealings and behaviours. In addition, all British Council activities must comply with the UK’s charity law and be for the public benefit as well as comply with the 7 Principles of Public Life .

You can find more information in our Fair competition policy statement.

Principle 3: Health and safety


We should make every reasonable effort to ensure the health and safety of everyone who works for us, wherever they may be working, and comply with local law. This includes visitors, students, contractors, colleagues and others using our premises or involved in our work as well as our own health and safety. For more information read our Health and safety policy statement.

Principle 4: Safeguarding

We have a responsibility to protect children, young people and vulnerable adults who engage in activities with us from abuse, harm, exploitation and neglect, and to create a safe environment for them. This includes the prevention of illegal exploitation of people for personal or commercial gain. Colleagues managing our relationships with third party suppliers and partners have an important role in ensuring those third parties comply with safeguarding policies.

For further guidance read our adults at risk policy statement and our child protection policy statement.

Principle 5: Working with others and upholding public trust


Behaving with integrity helps build trust and confidence and enhances our reputation. Therefore, we must never abuse or harm our colleagues, customers, clients, partners, associates or any member of the public.

When dealing with everyone whether that be customers, clients, partners, suppliers, fellow employees and others, we should all act in accordance with our values and relevant policies. The way those values are put into practice will depend upon the relationship we have with the person we are dealing with and our relevant policies but will normally involve treating people fairly, competing fairly, taking the time and trouble to understand what others require and providing them with a professional response which deals with their specific requirements.


We should always treat people in accordance with our values and as a global organisation show respect for local cultures and customs.

Principle 6: Information governance and confidentiality

Wherever appropriate we should be proactive in sharing necessary information in support of the UK government’s transparency agenda.

We must also meet our legal obligations to provide certain information to the general public on request.

At the same time, information must be appropriately protected and used. We must not share confidential information or material with anyone who is not entitled to that information whether they are inside or outside the British Council. We must properly protect private, personal and sensitive information relating to all who work with, for and on behalf of us from wrongful disclosure, modification or destruction.

We must use British Council equipment and systems responsibly and appropriately. This includes controlling access and avoiding inappropriate use of the British Council’s hardware, software, internet and email.

These requirements cover information held in physical or electronic form and on any system, including those provided by the British Council and our suppliers (including free public Cloud services and chargeable Cloud services).

We must all familiarise ourselves with our relevant policies, including our Security policy and our Information security and privacy policy and act in accordance with them.

Principle 7: Looking after our reputation

We should never behave at work, in public or online in a manner that may damage the British Council’s reputation.


We must only make statements to external stakeholders, customers and partners if the statements maintain or enhance our reputation. We should not make statements about politics or on any subject that may damage our reputation or cause a loss of confidence in the British Council. This applies whether we are making comments about the British Council itself, or organisations or people associated with the British Council.

Only those authorised to talk to the media on behalf of the British Council may do so. If you believe that you need to talk to the media as a part of your role, please contact Corporate Communications.


Online communications include email, websites and social media such as blogs, messaging apps, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

You should always be conscious of how you may be associated with the British Council in your personal online communications outside of work, and behave appropriately and in line with the British Council’s values. Your comments and opinions may be associated with the British Council, especially if you have named your employer in your social media profile or in any prior online conversations.

Do not rely on privacy settings to restrict access to your online comments; you should work on the basis that anything you put online could be made widely available. Using a disclaimer does not protect your comments from being associated with the British Council.

Never be offensive about the British Council or its activities, nor organisations or people associated with the British Council, including colleagues, partners or customers. Do not reveal confidential information or disclose any information that might undermine our reputation or be considered a conflict of interest. 

Please refer to the British Council’s Social media policy and our Freedom of information policy statement and Records management policy statement for full guidance.

Principle 8: Financial management and accountability


When we are involved in any aspect of managing resources or assets, or processing or recording financial transactions, we must behave ethically and keep complete and accurate records of decisions and transactions.

Please refer to our Financial management and reporting policy statement and our Records management policy statement for full guidance. 

Principle 9: Property and assets


We are all responsible for the British Council’s property and assets and should take all reasonable measures to protect them from loss or damage.

We should also take security precautions against other less routine risks, such as fire, flood, adverse weather and terrorism.

Information and products developed and owned by the British Council, including copyright, must always be protected. Standards for managing hard copy and electronic documents and records must determine our actions.

For full guidance you can consult our: 

Principle 10: Using funds and resources

We must not abuse, misspend, misappropriate, defraud or pursue any personal or private matter in the use of our funds and resources.

All grants and funding from government and non-government sources must be used in line with the conditions that apply to them. 

The delegated authorities must be followed before committing to any expenditure, supply of services or partnerships.

See our relevant policy statements for information on managing public money, working to ensure fair competition, and anti-fraud and corruption

Principle 11: Gifts, entertainment and payments


Our organisation, and we as individuals, must not seek advantage by giving or accepting any gifts, entertainment or payments that may be perceived as inappropriate. We have a detailed policy on gifts and hospitality that you must refer to which is available on our intranet.

Our conduct should be ethical and justifiable under scrutiny from the press, the public or competitors, and examination by those to whom we are accountable.

We must immediately report any suspected or actual instances of bribery, facilitation payments, fraud or corruption in line with the Raising Concerns policy.


Before accepting an official honour or award, you must seek prior approval from your senior manager. Senior managers must diligently assess the awarding body and guard against potential negative impact on our reputation.


We must not make donations, directly or indirectly, to political parties or their representatives, although as individuals we are free to do so.

Principle 12: Conflicts of interest


We must avoid any activities that are in conflict or competition with our cultural relations work or would prejudice it.

We should not use our position in the British Council for personal advantage or gain. This includes outside business interests or employment, both of which require approval. Employees can refer to our conflict of interest policy on the intranet.


Playing an active role in the community and other outside activities helps us experience and contribute to a wider world. However, we should avoid contributions that may damage or reflect badly on us. When expressing views about public or political issues in speech or writing, we should make a clear distinction between views that are our own and those of the British Council, and be aware that even views expressed as personal could adversely affect the reputation of the British Council by association.

We should think carefully before taking an active part in national, state and provincial party politics. This participation needs senior manager agreement.

Principle 13: Duty of disclosure


We must always declare any information that may be relevant to our work or impact on it, whether it is requested or not. All disclosures will be treated in confidence and only shared on a need-to-know basis.


Any involvement in legal proceedings or criminal convictions that may affect your suitability for certain posts (working with children and young people, for example), or that may discredit the British Council or bring it adverse publicity, must be reported and details may be requested.

Employees can access more detailed information about our conflicts of interest policy on the intranet.

Principle 14: Personal relationships


Our conduct at work should not be adversely affected by close personal relationships whether with colleagues, consultants, suppliers or others with whom we work or provide a service to.

Therefore, we have policies requiring disclosure of such relationships. Any information shared will be treated in confidence, and we may ask for a change in role or responsibilities.

Employees can access more detailed information about our conflicts of interest policy on the intranet.

Principle 15: Raising concerns

The British Council is committed to upholding the highest ethical and legal standards and has zero tolerance for malpractice or wrongdoing anywhere in the organisation.

Examples of malpractice or wrongdoing include child abuse, theft, fraud, false accounting, misuse of assets, receiving bribes, failing to disclose outside business interests and breaches of regulatory requirements, as well as breaches of this Code of Conduct and other British Council policies.

To help us deal with this, we want people to feel that they can speak up and raise concerns about wrongdoing confidentially. For employees this will normally be through your line manager, your line manager’s manager or your HR business partner. If this is not appropriate then you should refer to our Raising concerns policy, available on the intranet. Also available on the intranet for your further information are our guidelines on confidential reporting.

Concerns should not be raised to pursue private disputes and malicious false allegations will be regarded as a disciplinary matter.

Investigating breaches of our code

We hope you appreciate that this Code is in everyone’s interests and will familiarise yourself with it, refer to it and follow it.

As you would expect, breaches of this Code will be investigated and appropriate action will be taken which, for employees, could include disciplinary action.

Thank you for taking the time to read this Code, which was approved by the Board of Trustees in July 2019.