Businesses for Social Responsibility
Hubbard Foods Ltd.,
Royal Oak, Auckland, New Zealand
I'M ON A HIGH! I've just returned from Los Angeles where, for the last three days, I've attended the Annual Conference of the American "B.S.R." (Businesses for Social Responsibility). What an experience! 600 highly enthusiastic business people representing all sorts of businesses - from the giant American companies such as Levi Strauss, Reebok, etc. down to the representatives of tiny family companies. All gathered to hear speakers and attend workshops on all aspects of social responsibility and ethics in business. There were talks on attitudes to employment, environmental issues, community issues, staff profit sharing, business philanthropy, ethical business practices, etc. It was all powerful stuff and there were some powerful messages from some powerful (and credible!) speakers. Refreshing messages. It was all about successful businesses looking at the bigger picture as to the reason for their existence, and reaching out and helping the wider communities they operate in. It was about staff being treated as real people rather than "inputs" or "outputs" in a business. Some of the stories, some of the philosophies, some of the actions, some of the results, some of the successes (and some of the failures!) of the various companies were fascinating to hear. The overall message. Well, there were two for me. Firstly, very definitely, socially responsible business will increasingly be the way of the fiiture. And what's more, socially responsible business will, long term, be good business and will be in business owners' interests also. The second message - that the Roundtable-type view, of separating profit distribution from social responsibility - is outdated. Of course a business needs to make a profit - it would go broke otherwise and cost people their jobs. It would also have no money to reinvest (for example, in new machinery) and keep it healthy for the future. The point that I found reinforced was that profit can be shared amongst stakeholders (employees, communities etc.), as well as formal shareholders, and should not be the prerogative of the privileged few, who can afford to invest financially. This means a share of the company's profit should go towards helping in the community, making it a better place to live. The winds of change, however, are blowing! And to help this process I'm going to, over the next few months, aim to set up a "New Zealand Businesses for Social Responsibility" organisation. It won't be American, it won't be extreme. It will be a New Zealand organisation for New Zealand companies. Its aim - to foster and encourage social responsibility by businesses and to counter some of the opposing arguments.