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Debbi Christophers - Whose responsibility is it anyway?

10:00 08 July 2012

Debbi Christophers, Business In the Community head of business development (East of England)

Debbi Christophers, Business In the Community head of business development (East of England)

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I’m almost scared to admit that I work in corporate responsibility at the moment.

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The recent scandals in the banking sector make the very notion of corporate responsibility seem like a contradiction in terms at best, an expletive at worst.

Yet, if anything, the events of the last couple of weeks have only served to highlight the vital importance of companies taking responsibility for their actions and their impacts.

Responsible behaviour must be a fundamental part of corporate DNA – not window dressing or greenwash – because that, as we’ve seen, has a way of backfiring.

So what exactly do we mean by corporate responsibility or “CR”?

It’s almost easier to say what it’s not. It’s not compliance, it’s not philanthropy and it’s not about giving government a get-out clause from their responsibilities for our public services. It is about businesses considering the issues that are important to them and their communities, both local and global, and taking their share of the responsibility for boosting the economy, creating jobs, tackling environmental challenges and transforming communities – particularly in the areas of greatest disadvantage.

It is about building longer term sustainable businesses that create economic, environmental and social value – what McKinsey & Co call “long-term capitalism”.

And why should business bother? Well partly because it’s the right thing to do. But also because we know that responsible businesses do better. A recent study identified seven benefits of being a responsible business, including direct financial impact, more engaged employees, improved operational effectiveness and enhanced reputation. Marks & Spencer, who we recently made our Responsible Business of the Year, has reported savings of £185m as a direct result of its business and environmental sustainability plan.

Business in the Community works to build the business case for corporate responsibility and this year’s East of England regional award winners gave some great examples of how doing the right thing for the community is absolutely the right thing for business: a holistic approach to staff health and wellbeing at City College Norwich has reduced sickness absence by 24pc and saved around £500,000; Dalehead Foods’ work with Linton Village College has raised their profile as an employer and added value to their partnership with their chief customer, Waitrose; May Gurney and Chapelfield Norwich have employment programmes for ex-offenders that build participants’ self-esteem and prevent prisoners’ re-offending; Inspired Change’s Enterprise Days with schools have built bridges between businesses and schools, as well as enhanced the company’s own reputation in East Anglian business networks.

When companies behave irresponsibly the impact can be catastrophic.

When they do the right thing the impact can be equally significant. I know why I’d rather be making the headlines.

Debbi Christophers, is Head of Business Development, Business in the Community.

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