The demise of communism has left the market economy victorious upon the world stage. This triumph has, however, prompted a searching examination of capitalism’s limits and failings. High-profile corporate scandals and the growth in anti-capitalist activism have thrown corporations into the spotlight and left them seeming more unpopular than ever before. Many are asking if business has a responsibility to society and, if so, how far its duties should extend.
Should companies be cheerleaders for capitalism or is the growth of corporate and social responsibility evidence of a new way of doing business and doing it better? Is it time for policymakers and business leaders to be more aggressive with business failure? Yet a backlash is emerging too among those who think companies are becoming overly timid and apologetic.
Too much of this risk aversion could be damaging not just to profits but to faith in capitalism itself. With books critical of global corporations topping best-seller lists across the world, how can corporations answer their critics – and should they even try? This book assembles leading thinkers to debate the limits of corporate and social responsibility. It questions whether corporations deserve the flak and asks if it is now time for them to embrace the business of saying sorry.
Does business have a social responsibility and, if so, how far should it extend? Are companies becoming too timid and apologetic in the face of public criticism? In February 2004, the Stockholm Network and assembled a panel of leading experts to debate these Economist issues. This book is a collection of their ideas and arguments on one of the leading business trends of the moment.
A number of high-proﬁle corporate scandals, alongside the growth in anti-capitalist activism, have thrown corporations into the spotlight and left them seeming more unpopular than ever before. Is this an inevitable consequence of capitalism, or should policymakers be thinking about new ways of addressing business failure? Should companies be cheerleaders for capitalism, as Johan Norberg argues, or is the growth of corporate social responsibility evidence of a new way of doing business and doing it better, as Steve Hilton would have us believe? Our authors ask who is to blame and who should be acting as judge and jury.
At least in Europe, the growth in corporate social responsibility departments, reports and policies has been underpinned by the concept of the ‘precautionary principle’. Julia Hailes makes the case that taking a precautionary approach is no more than common sense and that innovation can often spring from finding new responses to consumers’ environmental or public-safety concerns. But there are dangers too. As Bill Durodié and Ben Hunt make clear, the precautionary approach can also fuel corporate risk aversion and proﬁt is, after all, a reward for risk-taking.
As John Kay neatly summarises, ‘the business of business is business’. What is clear from this impressive collection of essays, however, is that big business remains in the dock. Proﬁt has become a dirty word and companies are having to adapt to doing business in new ways and in a new climate. Reputation has always been an important part of conducting business, but never before has it been so integral to corporate governance. The trick appears to be to combine proﬁtability and good public perceptions – rather than to keep saying sorry.
Director, Stockholm Network
Helen Disney (ed.)
Helen Disney is the chief executive and founder of the Stockholm Network.
She has over a decade's experience of influencing public policy debates. Formerly an editoral writer for The Times and an editorial writer and commentator for the Daily Express, as CEO of the Stockholm Network she continues to write regularly on a range of public policy topics for newspapers, magazines and websites.
Helen's cuttings include the Wall Street Journal Europe, Financial Times, Newsweek, The Times, the Daily Express and Sunday Express, Public Finance magazine, Public Service Magazine, as well as a range of other magazines, websites and trade press articles.
She has made regular appearances on TV and in radio debates including 'Heart of the Matter', 'Kilroy', BBC News, BBC Radio Scotland, Radio 4's Talking Politics, the BBC World Service and 18 Doughty Street.com.
From 1996-2000, she worked at the Social Market Foundation, an independent pro-market think-tank in Westminster, where she was deputy director and editor of its quarterly journal.
She has contributed to and edited numerous think-tank publications including Impatient for Change, Poles Apart? and An Apology for Capitalism? published by the Stockholm Network.
She sits on the advisory board of the Centre for Medicine in the Public Interest (CMPI), a US think tank and has advised many new think tanks on how to develop their influence on the media and public policy.
Helen is a member of the Chartered Institute of Journalists, Women in Journalism and the Women Writers Network.