2012 has been a year of corporate social responsibility disasters. In the media we have had the dissolving of News of The World because of their inappropriate work ethic to right up to date prank phone calls where permissive boundaries were crossed. Politics has had a rocky year with the lowest ever turn out in the polls for the Police Commissioner role and correspondents suggesting we have lost faith in our leaders. In business we have had the imprisonment of rogue traders and more up to date, the report that some of the biggest names in business, avoid paying corporation tax….and at a time when the economy needs their contribution most of all.
It is said that the most ethical thing you can do as a business, is pay your taxes, create and provide fair employment, and give value for money for your goods or service. This holy trinity seems to be in question with the reports that companies like Starbucks and Amazon taking aggressive tax avoidance measures.
Most of us pay tax. We perhaps do not like the amount of tax we pay but we understand that the basic principle of giving back enables us to access services, have a performing government, and take care of those who need help such as the young (free primary and secondary education for all) and the elderly. We therefore chafe at the thought of super large international businesses, avoiding doing their bit. Whilst we congratulate and appreciate that they provide a good service and employment here in Great Britain, how do we encourage them to pay their taxes when loopholes are available to stay within the law, but not within the moral obligation the consumer would like.
Organisations like Ethical Consumer are publishing lists of places where you can both avoid using the services of tax dodging businesses, and those who they would encourage you to support with your business. The power of the consumer to change practices is huge. Look at the rise of Fairtrade, or the market dominance of Pampers since introducing their buy one give one association with UNICEF, or the rise of ethical products in the aisle where we thought it not possible like bottled water brands such as Thirsty Planet.
2013 will be an interesting year. More of us care about where our products are sourced, or made, or the impact it will have on our planet. Whilst we are all consumers, more of us wish to be more thoughtful in our buying habits and we will support businesses that align with our moral code. Having a social responsibility report and plan will be the norm for businesses that want to attract the mass consumer and the skilled employee. As Marks and Spencer say…they launched Plan A, because there is no Plan B.
Duncan Parker is Managing Director for Ethical Goods.