Is the aim of business solely to make profit? Going back through history tells its own story. While the ‘dark satanic mills’ of the industrial revolution made industrialists the new ‘Lords of the Manor’, at the same time there were those such as the Quakers (Cadburys, Huntley & Palmer, Clarks, etc) who believed that business should have a social aim as well as profit.
There is a similar story today. The ‘profit at all costs’ mantra was arguably at its zenith in the 1980’s; the era of Gordon Gecko (from the film Wall Street which includes the classic quote: “Greed is Good”) and the Harry Enfield character ‘Loads’a’money’.
Since then there has been a rise in the social aims for business. We have seen the development of the Social Enterprise, we have seen the growth in the phenomena of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and we have seen ‘other stakeholders’ recognised in the Companies Act 2006.
And now begins the emerging methods of codifying this more modern method of operating. Codification is important if we are to swim against the stream and the ‘greed’ mantra so prevalent in the undercurrent of business today.
If you are interested in running your business in an ethical way, and you should be if you want to attract the best staff and the best customers, then take a look at the five methods outlined below. You may find one that suits you, or maybe more than one. At least it will be food for thought, and show you that plenty of others are thinking this way too.
The Triple Bottom Line. In business we should be thinking People, Planet and Profit. All are equally important and your bottom line can reflect all three. This method is described by Paul Hargreaves in his book, Forces for Good. His own business – Cotswold Fayre – operates by this philosophy.
Values and Purpose. Setting and keeping to common values enables a team to gel into a tribe. Purpose sets direction. With all of the team believing in the values, and motivated by the purpose, then growth and profit become an outcome. If the values are ethical, then the business will be too. People come first. How this works is clearly described by the author in his book Valuable which is the story of my own business – Jennings.
The Organisation for Responsible Business – ORB. ORB was set up some years ago as a membership organisation where members have to pass a fairly strict test to prove that they have an ethical stance. http://www.orbuk.org.uk/
CSR Accreditation. It is rather surprising that no one thought to co-ordinate CSR policy. Instead businesses have been doing their own thing, with the almost inevitable result that much of CSR is considered inauthentic, more about public relations than social change. This new organisation https://csr-accreditation.co.uk/ aims to change that by implanting a robust accreditation scheme. Applicants have to comply with a strict code and they are assessed by an independent panel, and re-assessed every few years.
B-Corps. B Corps is a movement set up some years ago in the USA and with about 2,500 members worldwide and 180 in the UK. Certification is challenging, expecting only the highest standards. This perhaps is the current pinnacle for ethical business. https://bcorporation.uk/
This list is not mutually exclusive. A business could follow all five methods.
I would suggest reading one or both of the books mentioned and see if there is any common ground. Then choose one or all three of the accreditation schemes to apply to join.
If you feel a bit isolated, and that you are on your own in your more socially minded journey in business, then knowing that others are on a similar journey will help you to maintain your sanity, and joining with them is an opportunity to learn more and to share best practice.