There are few topics that come up as often, whether with business leaders at meetings, debating the future face of business with LFIG members, at policy meetings with CLPs, or with neighbours over the garden fence, as the topic of this book: what should society expect from business? The tone and language may differ but the topic is common to all. The subject, then, is one that is understood to be relevant to all of us. It is all of our business and it seems an entire new industry is being built around the question.
A recurring theme in the book is that society gets the business it deserves, that business isn’t in a vacuum but operates under a licence from society and how it behaves is therefore a collective responsibility. Jon Miller and Lucy Parker take us through examples of businesses that have learnt the lesson the hard way. The book looks at how change was prompted by different pressures – activists campaigning, social censure, NGOs; businesses were forced to change because of procurement requirements from other businesses anxious about their supply chain; politicians ‘knocking heads together’ and European Union legislation. The successes we see, however, go beyond business being pulled into line. In these examples we see new partnerships emerge between previous protagonists; business and their critics partnering up. Change requires a new response for activists, NGOs and politicians, not just business, bringing it back to the idea that it’s everybody’s business, we need to get beyond blame and build partnerships. Change, disruption, is coming and we need to make it work for us.
Along with the challenge there is a great deal of optimism. We are shown how large corporations have changed over 50 years, 20 years, 10 years, and for the authors these changes hold the promise of how much more can be done and must be done. Much more interesting than simply looking at how we limit the damage a corporation can do, this book addresses how a successful corporation once on track can make a positive impact on the society around it, not by compromising on business but by doing what it does better.
An aspect I found challenging was how many of the great examples to follow were clients of the Brunswick Group, where the authors work. I found myself searching online to check NGO responses to the claims. But that, of course, is one of the interesting strands of this book: that with the changes driving our world businesses can no longer control the conversation and transparency is as crucial for a successful business as for a successful book.
Karen Landles is a member of the Labour Finance and Industry Group executive committee. She tweets @KarenLandles
Jon Miller and Lucy Parker
BiteBack Publishing | 480pp | £20
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