Published on July 16th, 2012 | by Ashley Sheets
Stop claiming to be an ethical business – prove it
A better world is possible.
A world where business better serves people and planet.
We all have a role to play in making this happen. A good place to start is by considering what businesses are telling you and why, and whether it is reasonable to expect more than comforting words.
I am in no way anti-business. Not for a moment. But I am anti-bullshit.
Businesses are essential to deliver the goods and services we all need and they do so in a pressured and highly competitive environment.
‘Licence to operate’ is essential yet paradoxically, in the pursuit of good reputation, businesses have ended up less trusted, not more. This is because too many have declared themselves ‘part of the solution’ to the environmental and social challenges we face without adequate justification. In hiding or disguising their negative impacts, overplaying the positives or quietly pursuing practices that are unethical or unjustifiable, businesses destroy public trust.
Spare us the greenwash
People want openness and honesty. They will accept individual acts of community investment or environmental responsibility as laudable but, if overshadowed by a company’s adverse social or environmental impacts, individual acts become just token gestures.
The perception is that businesses seek to project a false image. We all know of advertising campaigns that portray a business as values-driven – one that cares deeply and is at pains to look after its customers come what may – yet our own experience of that business are to the contrary. Such experiences ingrain our cynicism.
Business is disconnected. It is failing to reflect society’s concerns and the public considers it to be short-sighted, self-serving and the cause of social and environmental problems, not the solution.
A tool for truth
However, real solutions do exist and Profit Through Ethics is potentially one of the most powerful. We have created a tool which enables businesses to prove their responsibility credentials and restore public trust. This tool has been built – and is now being calibrated – in collaboration with numerous civil society organisations including ActionAid, BUAV, Christian Aid and Tax Justice Network.
Businesses are currently being invited to join the Profit Through Ethics project to help tune the tool. To participate in the medium and longer term, businesses will be required to demonstrate openness and honesty in an unambiguous and unequivocal way.
In addition, they must commit to certain values (for example, integrity and fairness) and to basic tenets of behaviour such as commitment to achieving social and environmental sustainability; accepting responsibility for all their actions and impacts; and/or not exploiting others.
What we are talking about is real transformation: by providing proof and rebuilding trust, companies not only benefit themselves – by differentiating from their competitors – they also create a symbiosis that will make business work better for all.
Profit Through Ethics will empower people who wish to reward responsible businesses through their consumption, employment and investment choices. In turn, with the support of increasingly engaged, inspired and loyal stakeholders, trusted businesses will be able to compete on the ingenuity and ambition of their social and environmental practices, as well as on price and quality.
Unless and until businesses are competing on these terms, our chances of making the transition to more sustainable ways of living are slim.
So, the next time your come across a business telling you it is responsible, ethical, sustainable, a good corporate citizen or ‘part of the solution’, for all our sakes, please ask it for proof.
Michael Solomon, director of Profit Through Ethics
- Join Profit Through Ethics as an individual supporter
- Get more information on business membership of Profit Through Ethics