On a rainy Thursday in August, you could read over 100 pages of the new government strategy setting out their vision for civil society.
Or you can read NCVO’s excellent summary of the whole paper here.
This blog will discuss Chapter 4, which is all about the private sector and the government’s role in ‘promoting business, finance and tech for good’.
One thing is certain: the responsible business movement is not some kind of hippy agenda. On the contrary, it’s government policy and it’s here to stay.
A pretty picture
The Chapter begins with some good news:
Our leading businesses already put responsibility at the heart of what they do
Many of the new generation of businesses have strong environmental and social missions
An increasing number of people care about social impact, and their actions and consumer choices reflect that
Noticeably, SMEs are not in this picture, even though their presence in the community and potential impact are huge. Yet this paper is full of optimism, particularly for Tech for Good, and rightly states that ‘business done right is a force for good in society’.
Government’s vision of responsible business
With so many definitions flying around, it’s interesting to see what the UK government say.
Unsurprisingly, the very first requirement is paying its fair share of tax. The other one is about treating employees fairly, including through levels of pay.
Here are the other 6:
- Aims for positive interactions and relationships with its employees, shareholders, customers, and suppliers
- Is transparent and accountable to its shareholders
- Is open and communicates what it does for society and the environment
- Trades fairly with its customers and suppliers
- Protects the natural environment from its impacts and uses resources sustainably
- Genuinely invests in and becomes part of the communities in which it operates
This seems fairly reasonable and doesn’t include anything that can’t be achieved over time. SME’s could start with better communicating about what they already do for society and the environment and seeing how their stakeholders respond. In my experience SMEs often do a lot, but unlike really big companies, for some reason, they don’t communicate it as well. Among other things this can lead to missing out on partnership opportunities.
The government also emphasises the importance of the Sustainable Development Goals. This is timely after the UKSSD report 'Measuring up' revealed that the UK is only performing well only on 24% of targets and the most vulnerable people and places in our society are increasingly being left behind.
What’s new for business
A lot in this paper is recycled from old policy papers, such as the UK Digital Strategy, the Industrial Strategy, etc.
Today’s announcements are:
- A responsible business Leadership Group. Business leaders, social sector representatives and others will meet to debate the role of business in society and ‘develop actions to support businesses to fulfil this role’. We will watch out for their recommendations with interest but there is not much to do now but wait.
- A new (or relatively new) Financial Inclusion organisation responsible for deploying £55 million of funding from dormant accounts. It will primarily address the problem of access to affordable credit and alternatives. It’s a big win for affordable credit campaigners, including the Welsh movie star Michael Sheen who supported them.
- Expansion of the Purposely tool, which will help businesses embed ‘purpose’ into their legal documents. There is flexibility in the Companies Act and the government wants us to use it for ‘good’.
Apart from the affordable credit, there is not that much for business that hasn’t already been announced or that can be acted on now.
Still, this strategy should be welcomed as a statement of intent.
It’s always good to know where government stands. Their position on supporting the social and environmental responsibility of business is now more clear and unequivocal than ever – SMEs should pay attention.