In response to a recent high profile news story, I’m handing the blog over for a guest post from Michael Solomon, Founder of Profit Through Ethics, an organisation which is creating a new commerce where relationships between individuals and businesses are founded upon shared values and shared ethics.
News that the UK government had been spending up to £3,500 per bog standard PC – i.e. as much as 10 times the commercial rate for equipment – made the headlines at the end of July.
A damning report by a committee of MPs found government departments have been ripped off by a “cartel” of big IT firms and implored civil servants to improve their knowledge of IT before negotiating contracts.
There was no naming of names but one assumes it is largely just the Big Boys that can persuade the UK’s largest procurer to choose them to deliver whatever IT ‘solutions’ may be required, on the basis that they are big and expert.
However, given that corporate responsibility information is very prominently published on the websites of these Big Boys, and given that they all make very clear statements about being responsible and being good corporate citizens, one can only assume that none of them were part of the cartel ripping off the UK government and therefore the UK taxpayer.
Well, if I was as naïve and innocent as your average four year old, this may have been a realistic conclusion.
However, I have spent the best part of ten years working in business responsibility. I am hardly innocent. I have seen too many businesses talk about cast iron commitments to ethical ideals and deeply held convictions to values-driven behaviours while doing the very opposite.
But this is not to suggest I am the only cynic. No expertise or qualifications are required to understand that what your average bank, telecoms provider, oil company or utility firm tell you in their TV, magazine or billboard ads is at odds with reality.
Businesses need a good reputation. They need ‘licence to operate’. For the biggest businesses, this is increasingly essential. Yet paradoxically, the pursuit of good reputation has seen business end up less trusted, not more. Too many, for too long, have declared themselves to be ‘good corporate citizens’ or ‘part of the solution’ without adequate justification or proof. In hiding or disguising their negative impacts, overplaying the positives or quietly pursuing practices that are unethical or unjustifiable, businesses further erode public trust.
Tragically, whether businesses are promising value for money, sound social and environmental credentials, or that they will treat us decently and fairly if we are generous enough to give them our custom, more often that not we make the assumption that we are being lied to.
But we do not have to suffer this dysfunction. A new commerce is possible. One where relationships between individuals and businesses are founded upon shared values and ethics.
I know that there are thousands of businesses worldwide, big and small, which have plenty to shout about. Many, however, are struggling to get their voices heard over large scale corporate green wash campaigns and glossy Corporate Social Responsibility reports.
Profit Through Ethics has been created to provide a solution. Profit Through Ethics is developing an identification mark for responsible businesses that will launch in September 2012. It is a collaborative project and we invite any individual and any organisation to join.
By making it possible for anyone to identify and support companies that are open, honest, trustworthy and fair, people power will drive responsibility in business.
If your business – no matter how small – claims to be social, environmental or ethical, and it is happy to prove it (through a useful, simple, flexible, business-friendly process), then it can use this proof as a source of real competitive advantage and should join the Profit Through Ethics project.