The change election – time for business to decide

With the election battle gathering pace in the UK, big business is keeping its head down, despite having much at stake. Mike Tuffrey reads the early runes as the contest unfolds.

The pundits will tell you that political parties adopt one of two positions in elections – either “it’s time for a change” or “things are getting better, don’t let the other lot ruin it”. This time, however, that isn’t the choice on offer; everybody seems to be promoting a change agenda of some sort.

As I write this, the parties are busy publishing their manifestos. I’ll do an analysis once they are all out. Still, enough has been leaked or deliberately trailed to hazard a prediction: this is not a change or status quo battle, or a conventional left/right choice where one side says we need more government and one argues for less.

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The price of democracy: defending civil society

Companies should do more to protect civil society, even if that means defending their critics from oppressive governments.

Think of business involvement in politics, and the murky world of backhanders and behind-the-scenes lobbying may spring to mind. However, define the issue as protecting basic freedoms –the sort of freedoms that companies need if they are to prosper in open and competitive markets – and a different perspective emerges.

So it was refreshing to hear a call, as I did last week, for companies to get more involved, not in party politics or the direct business of government but in defending the space for civil society to operate freely. That came during an event we at Corporate Citizenship organised with Danny Sriskandarajah, secretary general of CIVICUS, the global alliance of over 3,600 civil society organisations and activists working to strengthen citizen action and civil society around the world. Continue reading

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Take responsibility

When Uber’s boss fell out with one of his drivers, the video went viral. In the process he’s taught us all a lesson about true responsibility.

It’s pretty ironic, I suppose. The digital revolution has enabled Uber co-founder, Travis Kalanick, to build a business worth a cool $70 billion in just eight years. Then the same technology and a humble dash-cam captured his angry exchange with one of their drivers, Fawzi Kamel, and it went round the world in seconds, thanks to a judicious leak to Bloomberg Technology.

Their argument started over tough changes to the business model of Uber’s high-end chauffeur service and ended with Kalanick uttering the priceless words “some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own shit” – thereby both passing the buck for the hapless driver’s bankruptcy and also – it seems to me – serving as a metaphor for the challenges facing global capitalism today.

It’s doubly ironic coming from such a profoundly disruptive business, Continue reading

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Why ESG matters

It’s not exactly as easy as ABC, but ESG – Environmental, Social and Governance – is the key to investors getting traction on the behaviour of companies they own. 

Forgive me if a note of grumpiness creeps into this comment. That’s entirely due to too much Trumpiness at present. But I just couldn’t resist giving a little tongue-in-cheek cheer when I saw this year’s Most Controversial Companies Report from RepRisk.

This identifies the ten companies most at reputational risk from governance problems like corruption and fraud, as well as environmental and social controversies. For once, the rating is based on a rigorous analysis rather than social media chatter or NGO high profile campaigns. The aim of the exercise is to raise awareness of the ESG risks that need to be addressed by global corporations.

To be honest, I’ve become a little fed up with the boosterism of the usual ‘most this’ and ‘most that’ rankings – like the one that named BMW as “the world’s most sustainable company” last year (since when was selling metal  boxes powered by fossil fuels a sustainable business model?); or the one that advised investors the year before to back Volkswagen as “best in class…  in terms of economic, environmental and social criteria” just days before that motor manufacturer’s systematic cheating caused a collapse in its share price. Continue reading

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‘Tis the season of goodwill and glad tidings

walmartLet’s looks back at some of the better news stories of 2016.

The year usually ends with a concerted effort to be jolly, even if most readers of this blog will feel glad tidings have been in rather short supply recently. As I write, news that Italy is now staring into the unknown – with a possible banking crisis threatening the wider Euro zone following its referendum upset – will do little to lighten the mood.

So this month in seasonal mood I’ll try to find some positive news, even if I end up reinforcing my long-running theme that it’s all ’bout the money (with apologies to Meja).  My sense that it isn’t all bad was fuelled by a recent round trip to the southern hemisphere including Australia, which involved nearly 50 hours sitting in planes and plenty of time to reflect.

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Trump: Déjà vu, all over again

The polls may not have predicted it, but the underlying causes of the upset outcome are evident. So what do we do now?

Donald Trump

Many in Britain will have had the same sinking feeling on waking up to hear the outcome of the US presidential election as they did in June after the Brexit referendum. At time of writing, the final tally is awaited, and Hillary Clinton may even be slightly ahead on the popular vote, but the picture is clear (and remarkably similar to UK):  a nation dramatically divided 50/50 with the former industrial ‘rust belt’ states (read northern Labour heartlands) swinging decisively against the so-called establishment elite.

Back in the summer, this is what I said here in Briefing about the outcome of the UK vote:

“The major corporations need to wake up to the fact that trickle-down globalisation isn’t working.… Simply put, owners of capital have done just fine since the global financial crash, and that includes many Western baby-boomers; but middle wage earners have not. Our great corporations like to present themselves as a much-misunderstood force for good. Western voters clearly disagree.”

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Signs of hope

Amid continuing concern about the hard economic consequences of Brexit, there’s cause for optimism from good progress on the Paris climate agreement and the roll-out of the Global Goals.

Martin Schulz signs Climate Agreement

Martin Schulz signs Climate Agreement

Mark Carney, the softly-spoken Canadian governor of the Bank of England, provides a rare focus for optimism right now. Indeed he has been dubbed by one pundit  ‘the only adult in the room’ while politicians play children’s games.

He can’t do much about the remorseless logic of the UK government putting border controls and immigration limits ahead of staying in the world’s largest trading block and what that will do for economic prospects; still less about the possible global consequences of Brexit’s American cousin, Trump, should that come to pass next month.

But he is intervening vigorously in the debate about opportunities arising from the move to a low carbon economy. His timing is excellent, with the EU Parliament fast-tracking its approval of the Paris Climate Agreement, meaning we are now over the threshold of 55 countries equating to 55% of global emissions needed for ratification. Continue reading

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Time for new thinking on corporate purpose

Mission ledAn opportunity to kick-start a move towards more mission-led companies is getting caught up in Brexit fall-out.

A little reported but potentially momentous bit of thinking is going on in the depths of the UK government. Earlier this summer the Cabinet Office started a consultation on ways to strengthen so-called ‘mission-led’ businesses. One question arising is whether we need a new form of corporate structure to encourage them.

The consultation set the scene like this: The traditional roles of civil society and business are changing for the better. The social sector is becoming more business-like and businesses are keen to demonstrate their social impact. Continue reading

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Business action on the SDGs: Why business still needs to make the big next step

globalgoalsToo many companies are trapped by the ‘curse of materiality’ and aren’t accepting the challenge of change.

When the Global Goals were agreed last September, I hailed them as setting “the new, de-facto global standard for businesses to design, measure and account for their contribution to sustainable development”.

I said they present a unique opportunity for businesses to align their programmes and purpose to the needs of society – and in so doing, grow the business, reach new customers and markets, develop new products and boost the bottom line. Since the SDGs set out the issues the world has agreed are THE global priorities, business can’t succeed in the long run unless these aims are met.

That’s why I described them as providing the gateway for any business to shift from Continue reading

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Big shift towards a new consensus

As the fallout from Brexit continues, there’s growing agreement about the causes but a lack of clarity about what comes next.

US President Theodore Roosevelt

A clear consensus is emerging around the underlying cause of the Brexit vote. It was less about the specifics of the EU or unique to the UK and more a reaction to wider trends, notably economic – open border globalisation, economic slowdown, growing inequality and mounting mistrust of most institutions including big business and now ‘experts’ too. My initial comment last month holds largely true.

John Lanchester, author of How to Speak Money, puts it well when he says “whole swathes of the UK have spent the last decades feeling that things are being taken away from them: their jobs, their sense that they are heard, their understanding of how the world worksand their place in it”. His full analysis Continue reading

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