6 August, 2020
We’ve long been convinced that SMEs are a vital, and often missing, link in the path to a more sustainable future. The simple fact that 99% of all businesses in the UK are small businesses says it all. It’s impossible to see how we can tackle issues such as climate change and inequality without including them. And because SMEs don’t tend to have the capacity or the resources to map the full social and environmental impacts of their business and work out how to address them, or to conduct comprehensive market research to identify the most pressing concerns of their customers, we’ve also long recognised the role that generic frameworks can play in helping them frame the core areas to consider, particularly in a sector specific context (we helped found the Sustainable Restaurant Association, which provide just such a framework for the restaurant sector.)
So it’s probably no surprise that we welcome the launch of the Good Business Charter (GBC) with open arms (and not just because of its excellent name!) It’s not actually anything to do with us – the initiative is the brainchild of Julian Richer, founder of Richer Sounds, itself a poster child of how to run a progressive business, securing success by doing the right thing. The GBC is supported by both the CBI, and the TUC, and is open to both the private and public sector, and charities.
The charter sets out ten components of company behaviour which cover employee conditions, tax, the environment, and the treatment of suppliers and customers. Companies which meet all the commitments receive GBC accreditation. It’s designed to be a simple process, but one that effectively separates the wheat from the chaff – companies must meet all ten commitments, making it a genuine mark of responsible capitalism across the board.
The accreditation is designed to act as a public acknowledgment and reward for responsible behaviour, and the aim is for this to become an easy shortcut for consumers (or employees or investors) looking to select a company with ethics at its heart.
It’s not the only initiative of this kind – the most notable is the B Corps movement which is fast gathering steam, though this is a lengthier and more onerous process, with significant annual fees. But the GBC process is notably shorter and lower cost, and the focus on small businesses and charities sets it apart.
So if the GCC takes off it will definitely be meeting a real need. An increasing number of people want to select products and services that are delivered in a way that respects the world around them, but particularly when it comes to small businesses, at the moment they are likely to be hard pushed to know which to choose. The information people would need to assess their behaviour simply isn’t there – or of it is it would take considerable time and effort to seek out and decipher.
If it becomes widely recognised, the GBC can help solve this problem. It can act as a simple point of reassurance for consumers, and aid their decision-making process about companies which seem similar in other respects.
Of course it will only ever be part of the overall arsenal. If a company is really looking to build its brand around the way it does business and make a point of difference around its approach to packaging or ingredients, or the way it treats and employs people, then it will need its own distinctive way of showing that it is going further and faster, and it will need to work out how to use this to make people walk towards it. But the GBC logo can still play a powerful role as a base mark, to show that the areas of leadership are built on a broad set of responsible foundations.
So we’re excited about the launch of the charter, and the potential it holds for businesses across the country. After all, never has all this been more important than now. As we all emerge from the Covid lockdown in jerks forward and backwards, the role business plays in society is ever more prominent, and more and more people are waking up to the fact that business done right can be one of the greatest forces for positive change we have. A system that helps direct, encourage and reward just that is an idea who’s time has very much come.