Jane Wood: United effort can change the way business is done

Business cooperation is key to a fairer society. Photograph: Getty
Business cooperation is key to a fairer society. Photograph: Getty
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The changing political and social climate is challenging us all to evaluate long held preconceptions. Amongst others, current changes to the political and economic landscape, our negotiations to leave the European Union and the inclusive growth agenda are challenging business to look afresh at their operations. I’d argue that re-evaluation is overdue, and should prompt a wider look at the broader social impact of business and our economy.

Responsible business is a straightforward concept. It is about how companies make money, not simply how they spend profits. It is how business operates as an employer, supplier and customer, and how, as neighbours, companies can help to create vibrant communities where people can flourish, regardless of their social or economic backgrounds.

It is the driving force behind everything Business in the Community (BITC) stands for. As the Prince’s Responsible Business Network in Scotland, our business-led charity is working with businesses of all sizes and sectors to tackle critical societal issues and drive change in workplaces and communities.

There is no doubt that business prosperity and successful society are inextricably linked, which forms the catalyst for our mission to work collaboratively with our members – businesses across the UK – to build shared long-term value. The responsible business agenda, cultivated in Scotland through Scottish Business in the Community, now BITC Scotland, is at the heart of our work.

This agenda has been drawn together from the best practice of all the constituent nations of the UK. However, there is no doubt that this has been fundamentally shaped, and driven forward, by Scotland leading the way as a responsible business nation with support from the Scottish Government. The Business Pledge and the Scottish National Action Plan for Responsible Business have been beacons for best practice in providing leadership across the business community.

In light of the current political and economic landscape, there is an emerging opportunity to take an inter-national approach to responsible business that facilitates collaboration across the nations of the UK to create meaningful social good from successful business.

The architecture for this type of joint working already exists in the political sphere through the British-Irish Council, and it is our belief that this forum can, and should, seize the opportunity to change business behaviour across these islands. BITC is committed to developing this concept through knowledge sharing and collaborative working with our members and wider stakeholders. The Council can see the value in that best practice being shared.

Over the coming months, Business in the Community will be working with national and devolved governments to explore this approach, taking the Scottish model and the success that has been achieved here, and to further consider its application elsewhere. Influencing UK government and devolved government actions and policies will be central to the BITC approach, seeking to build an environment that allows business to deliver social good from profitable business.

Whether it is through tackling the remaining injustices of the workplace, using the power of business to drive environmental behaviour change or in seeing the benefits of a truly sustainable workforce shared across the public and private sectors, there is so much that can be delivered by driving changes to business behaviour and encouraging wider positive social impact. The time for change is now.

BITC has recently drawn responsibility for the nations together into one role – an important and progressive step for the charity allowing it to recognise the individual cultural, political, social and economic needs of each territory while cultivating a mutual interest in growing the responsible business movement, and ultimately building more sustainable communities.

With Scotland leading the charge for inter-national responsible business we can achieve our vision for every business here, and throughout the whole UK, to operate responsibly and secure a more sustainable future for us all.

Jane Wood is Executive Director of Membership and the Nations for Business in the Community