The work we do is vitally important – and so is the way we do it. This Code of Conduct reflects our commitment to cultural relations work that is ethical, has integrity, and puts well-being, inclusion and fair treatment at its heart. The Code makes it clear that the British Council, wherever it operates in the world, is a single organisation with shared values. 

Those values – open and committed, expert and inclusive, optimistic and bold – should inform our decision making and guide the way we go about our work. This document sets out the values, standards and behaviours we expect and require from everyone, in whatever capacity and wherever they work: either for, with or on behalf of the British Council.

The Code describes general principles. It does not cover everything, and it should be read alongside our policies and guidance, which you should also familiarise yourself with. There is a link to some of these policies within this Code.

The principles in the Code apply to all our staff worldwide and must be adhered to unless local law restricts this in some way. If you believe that such a restriction exists, please consult Corporate Affairs. If in doubt about any aspect of this Code you should seek guidance from a manager or from your Human Resources business partner.

Cultural relations is an exchange of values just as much as it is the exchange of ideas, knowledge and experience. It’s essential that as we go about our work, each one of us demonstrates the values we seek to share with the world. If we want to build trust and persuade other nations that the United Kingdom has a culture and people worth understanding and engaging with, then our own behaviour is the place to begin. 

Scott McDonald
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, behave towards them and communicate. Here is a brief description of what each one means to us.

Open and committed 

Our belief in what we do translates into a deep and long-term commitment to the people we work with and the places where we work. We tackle challenges and take responsibility with openness and honesty to bring about positive change. 

Expert and inclusive

Inclusion is at the heart of everything we do. By involving everyone in the conversation we learn from each other and bring together all of our experience, knowledge and expertise to do the best work that we can.

Optimistic and bold

We believe in the potential of young people to create a better world. Inspired by this optimism, we are positive and creative and we focus on what works. We are not afraid to make bold choices to shape a better future for everyone.

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

Respecting local legislation

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

Looking after people

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 Safeguarding global policy statement.

Principle 5: Working with others and upholding public trust

Behaving ethically and responsibly

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 include 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.

Working together

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 respect our colleagues’ right to express their views, but we must be responsible, respectful, and protect the British Council’s reputation.

Making public statements

We should not make statements 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.

We are guided by our core purpose of building trust and understanding between people in the UK and countries worldwide and our status as a Non-Departmental Public Body (NDPB), sponsored by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, which requires us to be apolitical as an organisation. We should take care not to compromise this position.

If you are unclear or need further guidance on this, you should contact the Corporate Communications Team before making any statements.

Communication with the media

The British Council has authorised spokespeople to speak to the media on behalf of the organisation. If in doubt about whether you can engage with the media as a part of your role, please contact your Regional Head of Communications (if you are based outside the UK) or the Corporate Communications team.

If a journalist contacts you with a question or a request for an on/off the record conversation, please direct them to your Regional Head of Communications (if you are based outside the UK) or the Corporate Communications team. Do not issue any comments or responses directly to the media.

If you wish to speak to the media in a personal capacity, please be aware that you may still be identified as a British Council employee and what you say may be interpreted as the views of the British Council. You should seek guidance from your Regional Head of Communications (if you are based outside the UK) or the Corporate Communications team.

Communication on social media

You should follow our Social Media Policy which sets out the principles and appropriate behaviour standards for official British Council-branded pages and your personal social media accounts.

You should use social media responsibly, so that the confidentiality of colleagues, partners, stakeholders, beneficiaries and customers, and the reputation of the organisation, are safeguarded. You should not post or share anything that can reasonably be perceived as harassing, threatening, defamatory, derogatory, intimidating, or discriminatory or which may create a legal liability for the British Council. You should behave responsibly and respectfully in your exchanges on social media, and when sharing content from third-party sources. 

Please be aware that anything you publish online can be attributed to you and associated with the British Council as your employer, irrespective of any disclaimers you post to distinguish your personal opinions from those of the organisation.

For further support and advice contact your Regional Head of Communications (if you are based outside the UK) or the Corporate Communications team.

Please also refer to our global policy statement on media and social media.

Principle 8: Financial management and accountability

Knowing what is required of us

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

Protecting what is ours

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

Avoiding unethical rewards and inducements

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 available on our intranet that you must follow. 

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 Speak Up policy which is available on the intranet.

Acceptance of official honours

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.

No payments to political parties

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

Separating the personal from the professional

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.

Other outside activities

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 the British Council. When expressing views about public or political issues in speech, writing, or on social media, the principles set out in the section above on ‘Looking after our reputation’ apply.

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

Telling us what we need to know

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.

Legal proceedings

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 a detailed policy on conflicts of interest available on the intranet that you must follow. Any information shared will be treated in confidence and we may ask for a change in role or responsibilities.

Principle 15: Speaking up

The British Council is committed to upholding the highest ethical and behavioural standards and does not tolerate malpractice or wrongdoing anywhere in the organisation. If you become concerned about something you see, hear or experience at work, our Speak Up policy explains how you can report this safely and confidentially.

For employees this will normally be through your line manager, your line manager’s manager, your HR business partner or a senior country or business manager. If this is not appropriate, you should refer to the Speak Up policy.

Examples of malpractice or wrongdoing include abuse of a child or vulnerable adult, bullying or harassment, theft, fraud, false accounting, misuse of the British Council’s assets, giving or receiving bribes, failure to disclose outside business interests, breaches of regulatory requirements, as well as breaches of this Code of Conduct and other British Council policies.

You can be assured that you will not be penalised for raising a concern that you honestly believe to be true, even if it is later found to be a mistake.

Concerns should not be raised to pursue personal grievances. Malicious false allegations will be regarded as a disciplinary matter.

Employees can find more information in our Speak Up Policy on the intranet.

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 March 2023.