Markets – A force for good, or hogwash?

As far as I know, there’s no word yet for the social enterprise version of greenwash. So hogwash will do for the present.

Last Summer, I introduced two Guardian editors,  David Mills and Jo Confino to the work we’d been doing  in Ukraine to leverage childcare reforms .   Changing Capitalism for People and Planet was how I described the impact of our model of business with a core social purpose.

David was far too busy, but would rad it it in the next few days. Jo kept silent.

Not long after the impact was apparent when Guardian Sustainable Business published a blog asking Is it possible to combine the words love and business in the same sentence?

I could answer yes immediately because we had many examples, not least our missive to the US Senate calling for support for this new capitalism. It appealed for those inside the box to  learn to love and respect each other first, especially the weakest, most defenseless, most voiceless among us, then figure out the rest “.

This sets the scene for the parallel universes of social activism and sponsored journalism.

Making the Market a Force  for Good was a more recent article about a conference of  others inside the box.

Stephen Howard, Business in the Community’s chief executive, said ultimately social impact is about “how organisations engage and treat the planet, their environmental sustainability issues, how they manage their supply chains; how they engage with their employees creating inclusive, healthy, diverse places; also how they engage in their communities“.

There had been a remarkable likeness, between what he’d wrtten last year of The Business Case for being a Responsible Business  and what had appeared some years earlier in our widely publicised strategy paper on social enterprise in Ukraine.   Worse still they are partners of the USAID organisation which dismissed the plight of disabled children and were part of the hijack of our social enterprise project.

it’s hardly surprising that BITC least of all want to talk about social enterprise on their Mayday network.

Emma Williams, BT’s senior engagement manager for corporate responsibility, agreed that corporate platitudes about improving the world through business produce the “false premise that makes us all feel happy and shiny and really doesn’t move us towards where we need to be”.

Could she be thinking of the BT Better World Campaign which gave us a pat on the back and cost us $100 for a fax machine to acknowledge their benevolence?

David Bull, director of children’s charity Unicef UK, drew attention to the difference between corporations “mitigating around the edges” through charity donations or marketing messages, and actions that bring about real change, such as using local supply chains.

As I’ve pointed  out in Every Child Deserves a Loving Family,  in Terry Hallman’s notes he records that “This is not a research activity where many, if any, other people dared to participate.  UNICEF was willfully blind to the matter because it was just too dangerous to bother to intercede  Powerful interests remained entrenched with enforcers to make it dangerous.  Jurists were correct, in my view.  It was more a mafia operation than anything else, aimed at misappropriation and laundering of large money.”

Guy Battle, a partner at Deloitte, agreed that investors and boards would be keener if they could easily see the value in socially responsible businesses. “The pension funds own the business … pension funds cannot put value on social wellbeing.” Battle elaborated: “Ultimately the board says ‘what do we do with this [agenda], how can we translate this to share price and pension funds?'”

His question about shareholder primacy is addressed in our 1996 paper and more specifically in the 2006 ‘Marshall Plan’ strategy paper.  Deloitte say they want to find social business pioneers, but experience shows they are more inclined toward building their own reputation by blocking the real pioneers.

This is business and journalism which believes that you can build a reputation on what you are going to do and keeping out authentic social business is the way to go about it, regardless of the cost to those brushed aside.

To quote the manifesto  of  our departed founderDismissing other people and consciously leaving them to die, is probably not the way to go ”  Even less so, to the voiceless in the name of social or sustainable business.



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