WHAT IS THE NEW CORPORATE CITIZENSHIP?
James Hawkins, Senior Consultant, Public Affairs
“The spirit of citizenship” was the central theme of Theresa May’s speech at the Conservative Party Conference. In defining what she meant, the Prime Minister wasted no time in citing examples of where different businesses have not acted as good citizens. Notions of citizenship, be they exercised by individuals, communities or businesses, lie at the heart Theresa May’s social reform agenda.
The Government’s agenda was quickly criticised as an echo of 1970s ‘corporatism’, or horror of horrors, ‘Milibandism’. But in speaking directly with key members of May’s Downing Street team, the corporate citizenship agenda is not just a policy suite that the Government want to push, but one which they want companies themselves to craft. Theresa May is not just all talk here, she has already, as a politician, walked the walk.
May was one of the original Tory modernisers, long before it was fashionable. Back in 2002, as Party Chairman, she took the Party to task, infamously challenging members to confront the negative image the public had of the ‘nasty party’. She spearheaded efforts to increase female representation through the Conservatives’ Women2Win movement. Through mentoring and collaboration, the campaign has led to the highest representation of female MPs on the Tory benches in history. All this was achieved through ability and merit without resorting to Labouresque quotas and all-female lists.
As Home Secretary, May pushed through the Modern Slavery Act – the first legislation of its kind in the world that seeks in no small part to tackle abuses in corporate supply chains. And as Prime Minister, she devoted much of her first speech on the steps of Downing Street to redefining the Conservative Government’s commitment to social justice.
Brexit provides the Government with the unique opportunity to remodel the society and economy that we live in. Social reform ranks equal to that of dealing with Brexit itself as one of the Government’s principal priorities, a fact underlined with the establishment of a dedicated Cabinet Committee. Chaired by the Prime Minister, and with the Conservative Party Chairman, Patrick McLoughlin, as one of its permanent members, it is clear social reform will define the Tory Party narrative n government and their offering at the next election.
May’s Conservatives do not just want companies to do what is legally required; they want them to do what is right. For Downing Street this is not confined to increasing women, non-white or worker representation on boards, providing flexible working, or ensuring supply chain provenance as if they are extensions to CSR box ticking exercises. They want companies to play a more active and positive part in society – sharing skills, expanding opportunity and listening more closely to consumers, rather than just shareholders.
The Government is after all still a Conservative Government with Tory instincts. They do not want to prescribe how this should be done, they want companies to take the agenda seriously and own it. Good corporate citizenship is not therefore defined, that’s up to the corporates…
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