By Dr Nana O Bonsu, Research Fellow
Lloyds Banking Group Centre for Responsible Business, University of Birmingham
Over time, the term ‘responsible business’ has gained momentum and become more mainstream within policy, academia, and business management practices globally. This is resulting in a shift from the traditional ‘corporate social responsibility’ discourse, to the establishment of renowned bodies such as CSR360 Global Partners Network and The Prince’s Responsible Business Network, who champion responsible business and work towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Similarly, the UN Global Compact champions ‘business as a force for good’, and encourages businesses to align their operational strategies with universal principles on e.g. human rights, equality, the environment and advancing societal challenges. Recently, we have seen businesses that are leading on the responsible business front receiving recognition for their work, with the likes of Lloyds Banking Group winning The Prince’s Responsible Business Network award for demonstrating commitment towards Britain’s low-carbon economy.
Defining responsible business practices
While there is no clear definition for ‘responsible business practices’, the term is usually used to refer to robust and good business practices which account for societal issues whilst simultaneously meeting business economic benefits.
Investors, consumers and the financial sector are slowly beginning to take note of this new style of management, whilst businesses are feeling the pressure to integrate the different (but interrelated) policies in their day-to-day operations. Although these developments within businesses are challenging and sometimes difficult to implement while simultaneously profiting financially, they do present a compelling case to achieve the Global Goals.
Achieving the SGDs by 2030 and establishing a responsible business framework will require businesses to effectively deal with underlying issues – notably, the lack of appetite and understanding for responsible business policy integration.
Responsible Business Policy Integration
Integrating responsible policies within a business goes beyond the ‘status quo’ and the confines of established policies. For instance, a responsible business policy could account for ethical issues within its value and supply chains, whilst still having innovative measures in place to boost consumer confidence and meeting fiscal goals.
Initiatives to integrate policies within a business should look at cross-sectorial issues too, e.g. recruitment and human resource, purchasing and supplying, transport, facilities management, corporate governance. This kind of policy integration overlaps with the concept of horizontal sectoral policy approach, which see policy making being done jointly across various sectors whilst looking to tackle the conflicting objectives of different departments and professions.
Bringing it all together
Integrating responsible business policy helps boost a business’s corporate image, whilst strengthening its community relations. Leadership plays a major role in such a transformation, thus requiring willingness and commitment from top-level management and decision-makers. Completing a transition in culture such as this will require businesses to approach their strategic objectives from an angle of sustainable development, considering values and structural elements, such as political and governance structures.
A shift from a ‘top-down’ to a ‘bottom-up’ approach in policy-making processes helps build trust and ensures policy acceptance. Bottom-up approaches incorporate views from those usually marginalised from important decision-making processes. Thus, decision-making would require representatives from relevant stakeholder groups to come together in encouraging business practice to move in the direction of sustainability i.e. recognising people, planet, and profit as equally important. Hence, exploring portfolios of measures required to realise common goals, accounting for synergies and trade-offs.
This would not always be about consultation, but would instead involve genuine participation. However, technological elements, like the use of a Decision Supporting Systems (DSS), may be required for some policy integration. DSS as a tool becomes useful to test how robust and plausible it would be for a policy to have outputs that benefit the community and environment, as well as profitability. This is vital for policy integration to be recognised as being crucial for sustainable development.
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