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Trading for Good

What we're talking about...

The age of responsible business is upon us

The age of responsible business is upon us, if not in terms of practice, then certainly in terms of public expectation.

The coming years will see even greater focus on the triple bottom line (financial, social and environmental) and an expectation that business must always operate within the interests of wider society. Of course, few businesses have ever claimed to act against the interests of society, but for too long, Corporate Responsibility (CR) has been based largely on the assumption that the business case always aligns with the societal case - as long as enough philanthropy is dispensed.

The question is no longer whether a business should behave in a socially responsible manner, but rather how this should be done in practice. Here are some initial thoughts on key issues that require further dialogue and joint action if we are to make faster progress.

The first theme - Knowledge

How much should any business be expected to know about the impacts it or its suppliers has on society and the risks it might pose to communities, in particular the most vulnerable?

We need to agree on what can reasonably be expected for a specific business in a specific geographic context in terms of the proactive measures (or due diligence) it undertakes. Once it acquires this knowledge the business has to act to reduce risks and prevent, as much as possible, adverse impacts. It needs to use its leverage over the actions of others: other businesses or even, within reason, the actions of governments.

If a business behaves responsibly, it should be recognised for the preventative measures it takes. If it is does not undertake adequate due diligence, then it should be seen as reckless or even negligent.

The next theme - Transparency

Much more information about a company's financial, social and environmental behavior should be disclosed and included in public reports.

So far, company sustainability reports have often been free standing and read only by a few of the most committed shareholders and investors. This needs to change. Soon there will be Europe-wide proposals for social and environmental reporting - ideally this will increasingly be integrated into companies' main financial reports.

You’ll note that the theme of reporting on CR, knowledge & transparency runs through the heart of Trading for Good.

Chris Attwood
About the Author

Chris Attwood

Head of Marketing, Excell Group

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