No time for business to be cynical about social responsibility

By Mark Wakefield


It’s a curious thing that in the midst of seemingly intractable global economic difficulties, business leaders are starting to talk about the need for a different approach to business which is explicit about the value it creates for society as a whole. Within the last month or so, we’ve seen two books published by business leaders, Richard Branson’s Screw Business as Usual and David Jones’s Who Cares Wins. From a more bottom-up perspective, business schools are seeing an increasing demand for teaching on the importance of social responsibility. One business school head recently told us that this was one of the top half dozen priorities for companies coming to him for executive education.

These developments are clearly part of a wider response to the financial crisis that began in 2008. David Cameron has tried in part to address this with his Big Society agenda and, last October, Ed Miliband made an attack on “fast buck”, predatory capitalism the focus of his speech at the Labour Party conference.

However, just as our political and business elites are getting excited at the prospect of doing things differently with a move away from the shareholder model of capitalism along comes the recently published British Social Attitudes Survey which seems to suggest that self-interest is back in vogue amongst the population at large.

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