Your say / Corporate Social Responsibility

‘The business of saving the planet has never been more serious’

By jaya chakrabarti, Tuesday Jan 7, 2020

2019, let’s face it, did not keep its promise to resolve the problems from the years before. Our governments and our political leaders have had their hands full. The truth has been under attack, making it much harder to see what action to take, and human rights have been set back a few decades. Consequently, our planet is not faring well with humanity as it stands.

You can see why it’s easy to become despondent. Lord knows I’ve struggled with some of the things we’ve seen happen these past few years. I’ve been on the brink of believing Elon Musk’s claim that we’re living in a simulation and demanding a reboot.

But then I look at our two little boys and realise that hand wringing won’t cut it. I look at the tents in Castle Park and admit that spare change won’t salve my conscience. Watching Australia burn while their leaders play violins on the news isn’t great for morale either. If there’s a time for accepting that the system is broken, it’s now.

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Jaya Chakrabarti wants businesses to help solve broken systems, such as homelessness that can be seen in Castle Park

Dale Carnegie wrote an insightful book many years ago: How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. As a blackbelt worrier one recommendation in it (courtesy of Willis H Carrier) spoke to me (no, not praying!).

  1. Ask yourself what the worst possible outcome is if you can’t solve your problem.
  2. Mentally prepare to accept the worst if necessary.
  3. Then calmly improve upon the worst possible outcome.

I’ve spent long enough looking at the worst outcomes. The record got stuck there for a while but I fixed it and moved onto the hardest part: acceptance. Cutting a long stuck-in-a-time-loop story short, acceptance and I wrestle daily but now I’m ready for step three.

It is the raison d’etre for this article: Corporate activism. I asked myself what ethical businesses could do to improve upon the worst possible outcome and I came up with some ideas. They aren’t one-size-fits-all solutions but they work for me, and most of them don’t cost more money than you’re already spending. See what you think:

1: Embrace radical corporate transparency
Simply put, corporate transparency is the sharing of your actions with your customers, your buyers, your suppliers, and the world at large. The radical element comes in because this needs to be in real-time, not 12 months after year end. This enables others to hold your organisation to account.

Thanks to a West of England Initiative intervention (courtesy of CEO James Durie introducing me to Andrew Wallis OBE of anti-slavery charity Unseen), my team and I have devoted the last three years to the corporate transparency mission we believe to be the game-changer.

I presented a drafty five steps to corporate transparency plan at a conference a little while ago. Let me know if you want to talk more about it; we would love to work with anyone who believes, as we do, that it holds the key to saving the planet.

You can start today by joining for free. You don’t even have to share your supply chain publicly in order to “do transparency”. Hundreds of local authorities have already done so. Bristol City Council, unsurprisingly, was the first.

2: Become a Real Living Wage employer
Once you’ve committed your organisation to corporate transparency, the next step is to do something good with it. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) can often elicit an eye-rolling response but that’s because, in my humble opinion, we’ve been doing it wrong.

Just as charity begins at home, CSR begins with paying your people and your contractors fairly. It should be a no-brainer. Paying your people properly enables them to have the headspace and disposable income to become ethical consumers. Foisting any of the weight of our climate emergency onto their shoulders without taking this basic step as employers is illogical.

If you’re already paying fairly, by becoming an accredited Real Living Wage Employer you’re putting your money where your brand values are. We did, and felt so strongly about it we became Real Living Wage Tech Champions.

Make 2020 the year that you take this seriously and drive it as through your supply chain as you can go.

3: Pay your suppliers on time
So you’re on the road to transparency, you’re paying your people fairly. Guess what? Your suppliers need to pay the real living wage too, but none of this trickles down unless you adjust your payment practices accordingly too.

Out of 14,500 companies required to comply with Payment Practices Reporting Regulations 2017, 8900 didn’t bother in 2019.

If you’re wondering why we have such huge levels of in-work poverty, the first place to look is within your supply chains. You can find out which companies you need to encourage to do better within minutes.

4: Buy (and share) more social
Spend almost no more money but help make the world a better place. Social Enterprise UK started the Buy Social Corporate Challenge back in 2017 with ten corporate partners committing to spend more with suppliers that had added social impact.

In 2020, they’ve added six more corporate partners to their programme, but we all want this movement to move much faster this year. If you’ve achieved step one and shared your supply chain, you can find out what proportion of them are social enterprises or social impact companies (including B Corporations).


Read more: Sector spotlight: B Corps


You can then choose to back them more publicly to help them gain more supply chain visibility, or you can buy more from them. Or both. Also, don’t forget that even if you have no cash to spend, you can help by sharing good projects in need of funding to those who have.

5: Commit your company to the success of its home city
As an employer in Bristol, you’re already passively invested in its success. But I am asking you to make this a proactive commitment.

The resilience of our city enables us to protect our vulnerable citizens, and strengthen our infrastructure for the troubled times to come. The first thing to do is to join businesses who feel the same: that means join your local chamber. Then, critically, if you can as part of your procurement mix, spend more of your budgets with municipal services that reinvest profits back into the city, even better.

In a city like Bristol it’s easy. We have a municipal energy company, Bristol Energy, a municipal waste company, Bristol Waste, and we even have our own currency, Bristol Pound. In our case, we buy (for home) from Bristol Energy, commercially from Bristol Waste and are members of Bristol Pound.

We paid our business rates in Bristol Pounds to encourage our council to spend more with local companies. There are also many privately owned companies that contribute significantly to the city. Make it a point of asking your suppliers what they’re doing and asking them to share it as an example to others. Use your corporate land ownership to plant more trees.

And on the strategy front, we have the One City Plan, with many other cities considering or implementing something similar. You can volunteer and get involved, or encourage your colleagues to do so.

So there you have it, five actions you can take as a business here in the city region. Corporate citizens have far more to offer and they have been grossly underestimated and undervalued in the past. But together we can transform 2020 from the Year of Epic Hindsight into the Year of Corporate Activism.

The business of saving the planet has never been more serious. Let’s make it count.

If you have any more ideas or would like to tell us about your own corporate activism in your area please get in touch with @jayacg via Twitter. 

Jaya Chakrabarti is urging businesses to make this year count

Jaya Chakrabarti MBE is CEO of B Corp social enterprise and vice president of the Bristol Chamber of Commerce and Initiative 

Read more: If I Knew Then: Jaya Chakrabarti

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