Accountable Strategies blog

A blog about accountability issues in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors

Corporate responsibility in the UK and US

Posted by David Kassel on May 15, 2007

In the wake of corporate scandals in recent years, corporate ethics has become a field of rapidly growing interest to academics, the public, and to business itself.

That may be because it isn’t just a company’s workforce or the environment that benefits when a company seeks to “maximize its positive environmental and social impacts,” says David Grayson, Chair of Corporate Responsibility at the Cranfield School of Management in the UK. Responsible corporate behavior is increasingly being seen as a financial opportunity for business and not just a cost, he says.

Yesterday at the Kennedy School of Government, Grayson, who is also a senior fellow at the Kennedy School’s Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative, recounted highlights of the 25-year history of what may be the world’s first coalition of businesses dedicated to supporting the ideal of ethical or responsible corporate behavior.

Business in the Community is a UK-based nonprofit organization of 750 member companies that is dedicated to integrating responsible business practices in the workplace, marketplace, community, and environment. Established in 1982, it is one of the oldest and largest of the business-led Corporate Social Responsibility organizations. It’s president since 1985 has been Prince Charles.

In the U.S., a comparable institution might be Business for Social Responsibility.  Some states, too, have  their own organizations, such as the Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, and it would be good to see businesses in Massachusetts follow suit as well.

Grayson, who served as a managing director of BITC, noted that the organization’s mission has changed over the past quarter century and acknowledged that “BITC has not always got it right” along the way. BITC was slow, he said, to recognize the dangers of global warming and has not always thoroughly followed through on projects it has initiated.

In its early years in the 1980s, BITC mobilized businesses to form public-private community partnerships to help deal with massive unemployment in England at the time. One of the organization’s early efforts involved studying redevelopment efforts underway in Lowell, Massachusetts, by the then Dukakis administration and by then Senator Paul Tsongas, and applying them to the British City of Halifax.

By the 1990s, BITC began to recognize a “disconnect” between the good works companies were doing in their communities and their own business activities, Grayson said. That led to the organization’s current focus on corporate responsibility and the competitive advantage that can accompany it. Today, BITC is heavily involved in benchmarking corporate performance along a range of dimensions, including the workplace, marketplace, community and environment. BITC’s Corporate Responsibility Index can be found on the organization’s website. The 2006 Index will be published May 6 in the London Sunday Times.

The role that business can and does play in the major political, social, and environmental issues of our time is growing, and corporate social responsibility is an important element of that role. Business in the U.S., in particular, needs to get on board in a hurry.


One Response to “Corporate responsibility in the UK and US”

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