The big issues business cannot afford to ignore

It
wasn’t so very long ago that many employers thought being a good corporate
citizen meant persuading a few middle managers to paint the local community
youth centre. The employees would learn a bit, the community would be slightly
better off and local customers might see the firm in a good light.

Just
how far UK companies have come was demonstrated by last week’s annual
conference of the Institute of Directors. With its membership base of mostly
small and medium businesses, the IoD is known for fighting red tape and
employee-friendly regulations. The fact the institute dedicated this year’s
conference to the topic of globalisation shows that the business community is
finally realising that corporate social responsibility is as much about
competitiveness as it is about child labour or global warming.

It
was a brave decision. There were protesters outside the Albert Hall as the
conference began and the inclusion of former US Secretary of State Henry
Kissinger as a speaker attracted flack from sections of the press.

However,
the IoD should be applauded for giving such issues a platform. The message from
IoD director general, George Cox, and outgoing IoD president Lord Young of
Graffham, was at times radical.

Lord
Young proposed it should be a criminal offence for companies to conceal
information about directors’ pay. And Cox acknowledged that market forces alone
could not be the sole driver for tackling huge international problems in which
multinational companies play a major role.

Malcolm
Brinded, planning director of Shell International, called on companies to
address corporate social responsibility in a spirit of enlightened
self-interest.

And for anyone in HR who thinks they can leave such issues
to the board, Brinded pointed out that there are dividends, as well as threats,
for HR in terms of recruitment and retention, innovation and anticipating new
markets. HR ignores the big issues at its peril.

By Noel O’Reilly

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