Three levels of corporate responsibility

A business has three levels of responsibility.  It is responsible to the market, its people and its society. All businesses should ensure that all three layers are built into their core values and consumers should avoid dealing with those that don’t.

Everyone can understand that a business has a responsibility to its market.  It needs to make a profit and a return on its investment in order to survive and prosper.  To do this it needs to sell products and services that its chosen market wants to buy, at prices that the market can bear and at a high enough quality to provide value to its consumers.  It needs to buy its raw materials well, have excellent processes and keep a firm control on costs.  It needs to market itself, create a brand and build upon its position.  These could be considered as the normal trading activities of a business.

Most people can understand that a business has a responsibility to its people.  Are there any trading companies without workers?  Businesses need to focus on the welfare of their employees, giving them purpose, job satisfaction, a sense of belonging, a vision, decent working conditions and a level of pay that they can live on.  After all, as the saying goes, happy staff make happy customers.  It’s not good enough to cut corners, to provide an unsafe or unsanitary environment, to keep people in the dark or underpay.  An employee needs to feel that they have made a contribution to the business to which they belong and that they have been remunerated fairly.

How many people though understand that a business has a responsibility to its society?  Many will understand this from an environmental perspective in terms of pollution and green energy policies but it is much more than that.  Businesses live in a society and they need to be good neighbours.  They need to start by deciding what they mean by its society.  Is it the town in which they are situated or, if it is a larger company, the country or countries where it has facilities?  No business can be isolated from the community and so has to consider its direct impact upon it.  All employees, for example, need to feed and clothe their family and their families in turn spend their money in the shops and other businesses nearby.  New workers will be required at some point and so a business needs to think about the skills and education of the people it will draw upon.  Things such as literacy, apprenticeships, access to digital services, work experience, child friendly policies should all be part of the mix.  The list goes on.  And they should pay a fair amount of tax.  Businesses and society live in symbiosis and this should be recognised within any businesses’ vision.

The world is changing rapidly.  Physical resources are at a premium and relying on cheap energy and cheap human labour will soon no longer be an option.  Businesses and consumers alike need to consider the alternative.  Organisations must give as well as take from the societies in which they trade and we as consumers have the power and influence to make them.  A new paradigm has been created in which we have the ultimate power through the choice of products we buy. 

We should exercise that choice wisely taking all three responsibilities into account and decide which organisations we want to survive in the new world order.

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