Corporate Social Responsibility and Brexit

Call it what you will.  Corporate Social Responsibility.  Triple bottom line.  Responsible capitalism.  Social Impact.  Purpose.  Clever companies know that good, sustainable, healthy economic return needs to account for environmental need, social justice and human health.  Doing so means healthy supply chains, a skilled and content labour force and a willing happy customer.

Does June 23rd, and our nation’s decision to go with Brexit, change things? Is it business as usual, or are things going to change?

Well of course, we’re not too sure yet, and the nirvana of a long hot summer and the eurphoria of Olympic success, seems to have hit the pause button.  But if predictions are right, we’re going to be head-deep again in choppy, uncharted, waters come Spring 2017.

I’ve been doing quite a bit recently working with businesses on how they can incorporate environmental, health, and social justice values and beliefs into their core business functions.  It means moving away from compartmentalising CSR (or whatever you want to call it) as a separate budget line, or having discreet, linear, relationships with charities.  It requires a deep change in how business works.  Swapping short-term shareholder capital gain for confidence in a long-term sustainable supply chain. From producer right through to consumer.

Some great examples, like Unilever, John Lewis and Jamie Oliver – are showing that by putting ‘purpose’ into the heart of your business, it’s possible to be both responsible and profitable.  And they’re doing it by working practically with NGO’s and charities, in strategic partnership.

The Brexit process is clearly going to upset things, especially in the short term; the uncertainty of labour supply, turbulent exchange rates, new policy and regulatory landscapes.  Charities will have a lot to keep their eyes on in any case – government is going to be busy and focused on Brexit issues rather than health, environment and social justice challenges.  Just look at the backlash during the summer with the Child Obesity strategy.  Was this an example of government pushing policy ‘promises’ out the door to clear the decks to get ready for full-on Brexit?  If so, it should be sending a big chill down our necks.

Once Article 50 is invoked, over 17,000 EU laws and statutes will need to be redrawn and agreed.  They will affect the way we live; they will affect the type of society we want to create.  Whitehall is going to be crazy busy with bureaucracy.  And charities need to be crazy busy advocating and campaigning to ensure that government doesn’t push health, environment and social justice to one side.

Businesses and charities are both in uncertain times.  But we have a massive opportunity if we can work together.  Good, progressive businesses are already showing that they can thrive with strong health, environment and social justice frameworks in place.  Charities can help them.  We need to engage now, to show that working with us will make business healthier for us all and the planet.