Those on the left who are interested in the fundamental debates for the left about how the private and public sectors can work together for the common good would find rich insights to reflect on in Tom Levitt’s Welcome to GoodCo. It is the latest in a series of interventions on the topic since Ed Miliband’s 2012 producers v predators speech set forth the stream of debate on good v bad capitalism.
Welcome to GoodCo is an engaging and accessible read. It makes an important contribution to progressive thinking on responsible capitalism and is a follow-up to Levitt’s book Partners for Good. Levitt’s thinking and argument goes beyond the last 10 years of focus on corporate social responsibility into arguing the business case for being a good corporate citizen. At the heart is an acceptance that capitalism is part of our political and social framework, but that we have a choice about how to make capitalism work well and incentivise business to operate for social good. However this is not just about ‘heart’; the ‘head’ of a corporation or enterprise would, in Levitt’s view, be wise to reflect on the long-term financial benefits that can come from being a good corporate citizen and creating benefit for the community.
A framework for assessing your organisation against a maturity matrix of duties and responsibilities of business is an important part of this book’s offering, and a practical assessment tool for where an organisation might be on its ‘journey’ to real corporate citizenship. He describes how many organisations have moved on from the basic or internal duty to the company, in line with Adam Smith or Milton Friedman’s principles, and are in transition but less clear on their destination. The next level is the standard or ‘external’ duty to the state – paying fair taxes, acknowledging wider stakeholders and a balance in your strategy of addressing different stakeholder’s needs. The final or advanced ‘global’ duty is to the planet, focussed on a shared future which includes long-term investments as well as carbon and resource management. As Levitt candidly puts it, ‘only a few companies accept such responsibilities totally even though a business case exists.’
Using colourful and wide-ranging examples from politics as well as organisations like Unilever and Oxfam, this book blends and weaves cleverly a political history of this debate with a ‘business school’ history of this debate, and shows how the two are linked and complementary. And indeed, in a modern global economy, with the emergence of campaigning organisations like Awaaz and 38 Degrees, individual conscience is able to express itself at speed and scale in ways that can damage the reputation of corporations that do not play their part in citizenship.
Levitt encapsulates the challenge and choice of responsible or good capitalism in the title ‘Welcome to GoodCo’. GoodCo is in effect an ideal corporate enterprise –a template for a company that captures and harnesses the characteristics of a fictitious responsible enterprise. It is a great read and a great resource for those interested in this heartland debate on the centre-ground of politics, where the breakthrough is going to come not just from the language and leadership of politics, but the courage of corporations to change their behaviour.
Seema Malhotra MP is chair of the parliamentary Labour party business interest group. She tweets @SeemaMalhotra1
Welcome to GoodCo
Gower | 268pp | £55
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