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The rules of the road

15 July, 2022

At Good Business, we focus on the positive steps businesses take to deliver purpose and manage their social and environmental impacts. And that’s because we believe in the power of business to deliver transformational change. 

Corporate malpractice threatens to undermine this important role that business plays, corroding trust in business in general as well as the individual companies involved. Enter the news about Uber’s systematic lawbreaking, misleading regulators and secret lobbying as it aggressively expanded its operations from 2013 to 2017.  

And although the company has admitted to “mistakes and missteps” and said its leadership and values have shifted since then, the scale and audacity of what it did is shocking: using a ‘kill switch’ during raids to stop police from seeing data, encouraging drivers to be pawns in potentially violent protests, and setting up a mock app to mislead regulators. Uber isn’t the only guilty party, with many politicians helping the company find unofficial routes to power and prominent academics sacrificing their integrity for large payments to produce biased research

“Mistakes and missteps” is a very generous analysis of Uber’s intentional and serious failings during this period, which might be better characterised as acting with flagrant disregard for the law. 

Amidst our hand wringing, and concern for the impact it will have on the broader reputation of business culture, there is also acknowledgement of the fact that genuinely disruptive industries, some of which are crucial to delivering positive change, often find themselves facing regulatory environments that just aren’t fit for purpose. And while we wouldn’t want them to get around that in the way Uber did, facing in to this problem, and thinking about how we could create frameworks that are able to flex and adapt more quickly to transformative change, does seem worthwhile.  

Given the scale of the social and environmental issues we face, and the slowness of our current pace of change, we will need future disrupters (albeit those with stronger sets of values and ethics) to be able to advance far and fast if their business model can create positive change. The challenge is finding the balance – enabling innovation and change on the one hand, while ensuring high social and environmental standards on the other. It might be difficult, but it’s undeniably important.  

By Patrick Bapty

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