Monday, 28 December 2015

Business and the United Nations: turning demons into angels

http://www.sdgfund.org/business-and-un

The above is a recent report which explores how the UN's relationship with business needs to change.

What stands out for me is the power of changing our perspective.

If the UN begins to see the business sector and its people, ideas and resources as part of the solution to the world's economic, environmental and social problems rather than part of their cause, the UN's relationship with the business sector will quickly change in some very powerful ways. Here are four of them:
  • Business will be partnered with rather than kept at arm's length    
  • Business will fully participate in initiatives rather than simply donate to initiatives
  • Business will be listened to and valued rather than preached at and discounted
  • Business will be encouraged to make good things happen rather than regulated to ensure bad things do not happen

There are, of course, difficulties associated with seeing things in the above way. The past, recent and ongoing bad behaviour of many well-known companies, banks and other business institutions raises serious questions about how much anyone (not only the UN) can see them as organisations that can be trusted and worked with. For some, trusting and working with these organisations probably feels like inviting a particularly vicious species of commercial vampire into the family business; better to keep them at least at arm's length, even better staked out and regulated, rather than embraced, infused with new partners' knowledge and resources and gifted new commercial opportunities to feast upon.

But how much does our common perception of the business sector contribute to its behaviour? If we see business as part of the problem does it eventually become part of the problem? Does keeping business at arm's length encourage business to be secretive and cunning and conniving in its attempts to gain access to new markets and new money making opportunities? Does encouraging donations rather than participation provide business with a ready made cloak of apparent good intentions that is an all too tempting camouflage for less than good intentions? Does being preached at and discounted create a steadily growing resentment fuelling a need to get noticed, get even and 'get one over'? Does regulating to stop business doing bad things encourage business to find new and innovative ways to do bad things?

Have we created, at least to some extent, our own business demons? Would changing our perspective begin the process of transforming them into angels?

2 comments:

  1. Interesting thoughts. Thank you for sharing. Personally, I'm one of the optimists who strongly feels that corporations have an innate ability to achieve stuff and if they turned their focus on sustainability goals (a few examples of his exist such as Coca Cola's female entrepreneurship programs and water initiatives) then I believe the impact will be great.

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    1. Thanks for your comment. Yes, necessity and realism dictate that we must be optimistic about what big business is willing and able to contribute to the well being of the world.

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