Modern business is opening up to a renewed sense of value. Many firms are enjoying the rewards of embracing diversity and inclusion, while employees and customers are shifting their preferences towards working for or buying from those firms that pay fair tax and wages, have proven ethical supply chains and a genuine sense of purpose to do good.
Thanks in part to those companies which are becoming drivers of positive change perception of business is also changing – slowly. So how do firms get those messages out? And how do prospective employees or customers know when they’re engaging with an organisation with ethical practices truly embedded across their business?
This month saw the launch of the Good Business Charter – an independent not-for-profit organisation supported by the CBI and TUC which aims to provide accreditation and promote businesses who implement responsible behaviour. The brainchild of businessman Julian Richer – founder of the Richer Sounds retail chain, the charter – run by Chief Exec Jenny Herrera ─ brings a new and unique platform to champion those purveyors of good practice.
Businesses that sign up to the charter are required to commit to ten components concerning a range of practices affecting employees, customers, fair tax, environmental responsibility, prompt payment, and ethical supply chains. And the rule is a simple one – complete all ten components or don’t qualify.
“It means that if someone is looking at a business and they’re in the Good Business Charter, they know that they do all these things,” says Jenny. “They’re not left thinking ─ ‘they might care about a living wage whilst they’re not paying their taxes properly.’”
Putting people first
Jenny has worked with Julian Richer for over ten years on his charitable interests, first with ACTS 435, which uses the branch network of churches to help people in UK poverty, and then with ASB Help – which supports victims of anti-social behaviour. “Through that work, I’ve seen people struggling on zero-hours contracts ─ I’ve seen people in working poverty.” That involvement led to her coming on board as the CEO of the Good Business Foundation ─ of which the Good Business Charter is an initiative.
“Through his 40 plus years of working in retail, Julian has always prioritised customers,” adds Jenny. “And he’s always followed the philosophy that if you treat employees well, then they will do their job well. They will flourish.”
It’s an idea that is not unfounded, with one recent statistic by think tank Tomorrow’s Company showing that workers living in poverty produce five to six times lower quality work than those better off. Meanwhile, the resilience of Richer Sounds to the various waves of disruption such as the rise and fall of overseas competitors and the advent of the internet – prove its commercial success.
Simple and practical accreditation
Richer Sounds has signed both the Living Wage Foundation and Fair Tax Mark, as well as a host of other accreditations but Julian found there was nothing available that really ticked all the boxes. “For several years I have wanted to see a simple, holistic way of recognising responsible business behaviour,” he says. “And in the past 12 months, things have aligned to make the Good Business Charter a reality.”
In May 2019, Julian handed over 60% of Richer Sounds to an employee trust, with each employee receiving £1,000 per year of service. The publicity received off the back of that opened more doors for the Good Business Charter. Julian then reached out to the CBI, who for a long time has taken the purpose of business very seriously and has put a lot of work into how to champion good business practice.
That evolving process at the CBI has led to Everyone’s Business – a campaign that grew from listening to and understanding public expectations of business, with the aim of informing firms on how to fulfil those expectations – making the Good Business Charter a potentially good fit.
Collaborating for success
Julian’s approach wasn’t the first time the CBI had been asked to get involved with a charter or pledge of this nature, but despite their many merits, none have quite been the right fit for a broad business audience. And that’s exactly where the Good Business Charter and the CBI found common ground and the potential for partnership.
“Julian came from a similar place to us,” says Josh Hardie, CBI Deputy Director-General and trustee of the Good Business Charter. “He’d looked at many of the good options around this space but found none of them were quite right for him and his business. So, as an entrepreneur, he thought of something practical – what are the ten things that the public really care about – and how can businesses show they’re taking action on them?”
It was that simple practicality that was the initial hook to getting the CBI involved – with each of the ten commitments all potentially leading to different initiatives. “That’s very difficult for a business,” adds Josh, “because it means they’d have to sign-up to ten different kitemarks.”
But the philosophy of the Good Business Charter is to base the commitments on those kitemarks but to allow self-certification and rely on trust – making the process simple for businesses and allowing them to control their own commitments.
The final hook for the CBI was the input it could have in deciding on exactly what those ten commitments would be. Something Julian himself hadn’t quite decided on and wanted help in pitching at the right level, so he enlisted the aid of both the CBI and the TUC – allowing a balanced approach to whittling down those ten points.
“We wanted to get half the commitments about employees, and really value that relationship,” says Jenny. “And then, of course, the environment. From Julian’s perspective, customers are absolutely key, as is paying your taxes, which left the ethical sourcing and prompt payment code to be brought in.”
The CBI’s initial involvement was to help. “For each of the ten areas, we thought ‘what’s a challenging and achievable way to pitch this?’” says Josh. “So we sat down and went through each point – talking to members and talking to the TUC and finding the right level.”
“I am particularly grateful to the CBI and TUC for their support of my idea and helping to make this happen,” adds Julian.
A promising start
The charter is in its early stages, but with over 100 businesses either signed up or in the process of signing up in its first week, things are looking promising.
For business getting involved, there’s no cost to the first year then after that the fees are minimal – no more than £1,000 per annum. In return is an added layer of trust to their proposition and a platform to promote their ethical activities.
The Good Business Charter is open to any business with more than ten employees to come on board. “Don’t just think, ‘it’s not for me,’” adds Jenny. “We want to help you over the line. And for smaller businesses, if the language seems a little bit official, that’s because we’ve written it with every company in mind. But don’t be put off by that. We want it to be for everyone. That’s really at the heart of it.”
To sign up to the Good Business Charter, head over to their website to find out more and register.