Corporate Eye

Responsible Business Summit: 15 Thoughts

Earlier this week I was lucky enough to attend the 12th Annual Responsible Business Summit in London which was superbly hosted by Ethical Corporation. Having predominantly experienced investor relations conferences, I was full of enthusiasm for the wealth of new information and ideas about to assault my senses, and two full days later, I am pleased to say that it was an incredibly interesting and perhaps I could even say, an inspiring event.

A real effort was made by the organisers to keep the sessions interactive and to use technology to engage the audience. We voted via Twitter and SMS on the best presentations from companies on subjects such as “Frontline supply chain engagement to enable ethical sourcing”, “New models for investment using social innovation” and the final session, “Stakeholder Engagement X Factor”.

I attended eight sessions over the two days and met a number of people from large plc’s to small suppliers from the UK and much further afield. The most memorable moments were when those presenting spoke with genuine passion for their subject, of particular note was when the President of the Norwegian Red Cross spoke about the importance of trust for their organisation during his recent visit to Damascus. Only with complete trust from both the rebels and the regime could they have full access to treat those who needed it the most.

The Chief Executives of both BUPA and O2 spoke about trust and what it meant to their companies. The general theme was a focus on transparency, using technology for more open communication, and employee empowerment. In addition, it was accepted that mistakes will always happen and whilst efforts will always be made to minimise those, it was actually a zero tolerance towards not learning from failure rather than failure itself.

This is a very interesting concept and something that we have been speaking about for the last few months internally. Being open about your challenges as a business is absolutely the right approach, and as Sven Mollekleiv of the DNV Group said, “no customer has complained about telling the truth, this creates trust”.

So, what did I learn that you might find useful? In no particular order of importance, here are fifteen quotes/ideas (as accurate as my note-taking would allow) and tit-bits of feedback that you might find interesting:

  1. The roles of NGO’s and big business in effecting change from an environmental and societal position is paramount, but collaborations between them needs to be carefully considered to ensure transparency and clarity around objectives.
  2. Corporations need to work hard with their supply chain, especially in emerging markets to ensure that proper standards are being followed, and that they should make long term commitments to their suppliers so that where change is necessary, that price increases can be accommodated (the Bangladesh factory collapse was referenced here).
  3. Businesses that have moved from the “Command and Control” model to the “Participate and Persuade” world have enjoyed far greater financial success.
  4. Societal contribution is potentially of greater importance to businesses than charitable, supply chain or energy reduction policies.
  5. For businesses to rebuild trust they must identify stakeholders, create adequate listening posts and create strategies for engagement based on the data available
  6. Shareholder activism and proxy voting is putting new issues on the table as investors start to drive agendas.
  7. Analysts are starting to ask questions about resource scarcity, water usage, production processes etc. as they start to understand the importance of strategies to adequately deal with these challenges.
  8. Investment firm Calvert are releasing an app for individuals to track their water usage in order to raise awareness so that they force companies to disclose the same
  9. You can monitor which companies are best at innovation with responsible business practices as it is integral to their strategy, reporting, results announcements, independent reporting etc…
  10. Companies cannot break off manufacturing from the brand, and so their reputation is dependent upon their process
  11. The focus on the supply chain by corporations will become more important as the impact that can be made both financially and from a societal and environmental point of view by making improvements through responsible practice and collaboration is fully understood.
  12. Supply chain audits and reporting will become commonplace and incorporated into reporting cycles in the next two to three years.
  13. There is no silver bullet when it comes to crisis communications, but effective scenario planning is absolutely critical in understanding roles and responsibilities during such events.
  14. Large multinationals have to be careful to align their loyalty to national interests rather than political interests in order to retain neutrality and customer loyalty during government changes.
  15. That many companies will start to publish their CR Report online—and only online. The digital revolution is not quite as transformational as responsible business practice, but it can certainly save a tree or two.
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Adrian Meredith

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