At the 2019 Fortune Global Forum in Paris, France, one thing was made clear: the public has lost its trust in the business world. The tolerance of companies getting away with reaping profit while dumping harmful waste, paying their workers barely living wages, and/or discriminating against women and minorities has run out; businesses face a higher level of scrutiny. With this increasing demand for accountability and transparency, corporations that cannot meet the standard will pay the price in customer loyalty. In the current crisis, all businesses are facing the imperative to reinvent their supply chains, how they interact with customers, and how employees are treated. How can businesses use this challenge as an opportunity to rebuild trust in the public’s eye?
The key is for corporations to understand that their business activities and a positive impact on the broader society do not have to be incompatible. The old way was for large companies to set up a charity in the company’s name, as if their philanthropic contribution would offset the harm caused by their business activity. While charitable contributions are certainly a positive step, our environment and our population can no longer tolerate the harmful physical and social impact that some businesses have gotten away with discounting as externalities.
In 2020, let’s take a stand to restore integrity to the business world. Without this commitment, the predictable future is further denigration of the only planet we have and almost-certain erosion of the quality and dignity of human life. Integrity refers to being whole or being complete. We know that businesses have the potential to lift millions out of poverty and provide their employees with a life of meaning. So, what does a corporation with integrity look like?
B-corps, or benefit corporations, take a stand that making a profit and a positive impact does not have to be juxtaposed. They commit to conducting their business activities in a manner that at least does not harm the environment or other people, if not leaving it better than the way they found it. Businesses do not have to be limited in growth due to this decision. An example of an incredibly successful B-corp is Patagonia. Patagonia has taken a stand for producing their products in a manner that is sustainable and does not cause harm to the environment. In addition, they will repair any Patagonia product for free, no matter how old or damaged, to discourage needless waste and excess consumption. In this current period, scores of companies have stepped up to the plate: shifting their productions to create desperately-needed products such as face masks or ventilators, and beginning to experience and recognize the benefits of allowing employees to work flexibly.
In the new decade, the bar has been raised for integrity in the business world. How will your organization meet this imperative?