Launch of ‘Welcome to GoodCo’

On 17 June 2014 Welcome to GoodCo was formally launched at an event at The Work Foundation. Here is my speech to mark that occasion:

Ladies and Gentlemen: Welcome… to GoodCo. I’m sorry to say that GoodCo, the embodiment of the perfect private sector company and corporate citizen, couldn’t actually be here tonight – you can read about them in Chapter 1 even though there’s no such company – but they would have sent their best wishes had they existed.

Fortunately, followers of GoodCo do exist and several of those will get a name check in the next few minutes.

Let’s start by saying thank you to a couple of companies who see themselves as having a social purpose – amongst other reasons for being – and organise themselves accordingly.

First, thank you for the ice cream – to Ben & Jerry’s. A modern day ‘rags to riches’ story, Ben & Jerry’s was founded as much as a campaigning organisation for social change as a company which specialises in tasty – and I mean ‘tasty’ – ice cream.

Some of you will be familiar with the American model of the Benefit Corporation, defined as a company whose constitution prioritises social values and public benefit over short term financial return to shareholders. Ben & Jerry’s is not only the world’s largest Benefit Corporation but it is also the only one which is a wholly owned subsidiary of an international conglomerate – in this case Unilever, itself declared by Oxfam, just last year, to be the world’s second most sustainable food company. I think you might be surprised to discover who came first and who came third – but you’ll have to read the book to find out – and also which political campaigns Ben & Jerry’s has actively supported, not least with free ice cream, over the last 30 years.

My second thank you, for the other non-alcoholic refreshments, goes to a company whose very name has become synonymous with value and the best of co-operative ownership: the John Lewis Partnership; or, more specifically, the new Waitrose just around the corner.

We hear so often of massive – and unjust – bonuses being paid in the banking industry, sometimes – according to Colin Melvin, a key author of the UN’s Principles of Responsible Investing (and a hero of my story) – when the recipients themselves do not even know on what basis they are being rewarded! So it’s refreshing to hear that last year John Lewis paid every single employee a bonus of 18 per cent of their salary, on the very specific basis of rewarding co-operative effort and success co-operatively. You can read more about the story of John Lewis – and find out which member of the royal family joined its workers on their picket line in the early days – in my book.

Talking of responsible investment, in another chapter you will discover why only 4 of Britain’s biggest 20 public ethical investment funds can truly call themselves ethical!

At about the same time as John Lewis was creating his store in Oxford Street, 150 years ago, Jesse Boot was building up his pharmacy in Nottingham. Boots was the first company to employ a women’s rights officer, the first to provide free access to a doctor’s surgery on company premises, before the NHS was formed, and the first to use combined heat and power technology to power its factory and its fleet of electric vehicles, some 80 years ago. Boots is today leading the way both on business to business co-working – sharing its fleet of lorries in rural areas with other retailers to save a million pounds AND a significant carbon footprint – but also on cross sector working. Its three-year old partnership with Macmillan Cancer Care delivers a better service for cancer patients than either Boots or Macmillan could do alone. We’ll be hearing from Boots in a few minutes.

People who know me will not be surprised when I say that there is a political context to all of this. Capitalism has had almost every adjective applied to it in recent years – responsible, compassionate, progressive, breakthrough, annual, sustainable, inclusive – and you will be pleased to know that there is a chapter about what all of these words might mean.

We know that in big corporates there is an increasing trend of acknowledging the role and influence of the responsible corporate citizen. Pioneers like Paul Polman of Unilever are showing genuine leadership. But is it consistent enough? Deep enough? Sustainable enough?

I recently contributed thoughts on business giving to the Charity Aid Foundation’s new report on Creating an Age of Giving, published last week, and in doing so I was delighted to work once more with my old friend David Blunkett – we’ve known each other 30 years next year, David, and our very first meeting led to me fixing you up with a date… …with my then neighbour, the late Laurie Lee, so you could visit the Slad Valley with him and imagine the scenes there as he depicted them in ‘Cider with Rosie’. Almost 25 years after that you and I wrote a pamphlet together on the future of Labour’s voluntary sector policy and I’m delighted that you can join us tonight. Ladies and Gentlemen, former Home Secretary and my good friend, David Blunkett. …

SPEECH: David Blunkett

As I mentioned earlier, a company that is leading the way to genuine corporate citizenship status is Alliance Boots – and I am delighted that Richard Ellis, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility at Boots, is here with us tonight…

SPEECH: Richard Ellis

Thank you Richard. Let me be absolutely blunt about the message behind Welcome to GoodCo. Having spent 13 years in government I believe that there is a limit to what central government can achieve and that we are closer to that limit than you might think. Localism, devolving power to local authorities, and from local authorities to communities, is all well and good but politicians are not good at letting go – and communities too often are not capable of taking on the reins, as I saw myself in the more deprived parts of my former constituency, such as the council estate where benefits are still the main source of household income and there is no local employment whatsoever.

Of course, we all rely on taxes generated by the private sector to power our public services – and taxes pay for about half of the activity of the voluntary sector, too.

Let me give you an idea of how big the private sector is. £350M is the turnover of Manchester United, the world’s 4th biggest football club. £350M is the turnover of 15 – yes, 15 – of Britain’s 160,000 charities (three quarters of which have an income of under £100,000). £350M is also the turnover of one large supermarket store.

The private sector is brimming over with resources – and I don’t just mean money. It has space, tools, skills, capacity, resources, employee time and energy to spare or to share. We know through charities like Pilotlight that the transfer of skills from business to charities works – and vice versa, too. It’s not, as some in the charity world say, about making charities more like businesses. If anything, it’s about helping businesses think a bit more like charities.

We know from the experience of Tameside for Good in Greater Manchester, a service said to have been inspired by my first book, Partners for Good, that SMEs will engage constructively with civil society where a business case is made for them to do so, based on employee engagement, skills acquisition, market positioning, innovation and so on.

We know from Africa that there is a business case for companies like Nestle and Anglo American to actively invest in prolonging the life expectancy of communities – because it is a cost effective way of prolonging the life expectancy of their skilled workforce, who are fighting a constant battle against AIDS.

We know from what Serco is doing with four charity partners in delivering half of the National Citizenship Service in Britain that the right business partner, doing what it does best, can enable those charities to deliver services within their mission and within their contract at a scale and at a rate of growth that they could not possibly have achieved on their own.

In the East End of London there is a charity, a boxing organisation working effectively against the gang culture in deprived communities, called Fight for Peace. It is an offshoot from the main Fight for Peace organisation based in the favelas, the slums of Rio de Janeiro, which I had the pleasure of visiting just ten days ago. Four years ago the man who set up Fight for Peace, Luke Dowdney, also set up Luta, a global online sportswear company. Luta’s constitution stipulates that half of its profits must go to Fight for Peace. His business plan is that in ten years time not only will Fight for Peace be a global organisation fighting gang culture, but that its operation will be one hundred per cent funded by that private company, Luta sportswear.

That is commitment. That is citizenship. That is Business for Good.

And finally, last year I visited the Greyston Bakery, in Yonkers, New York. It’s 30 years old and founded by a Jewish Buddhist teacher; you have to be qualified to be in their workforce of 60 shop floor bakers and packers: the required qualification is that you must be EITHER an ex-convict OR an ex-addict AND be long term unemployed.

‘We don’t employ people to make brownies,’ they say, ‘we make brownies to employ people.’

The company is now owned by the charity, the Greyston Foundation, which in recent years has spent $50M of the company’s profits on social housing, child care, AIDS clinics and community gardens in Yonkers – supported, it has to be said, by the bakery’s biggest customer – who just happens to be Ben & Jerry’s.

You can read about all of these businesses in my book!

Let me say this. I am a great believer in democracy and in politics. I would not have dedicated my career to public service, following in my mother’s footsteps, if I did not believe in it. But after my time in government I now profoundly believe that neither the public sector alone, nor even the public sector in partnership with civil society, can deliver everything that our communities need, and our planet needs, alone.

We need a private sector that espouses corporate citizenship in every respect.

We need to share the resources, skills and capacities of that private sector and to do this our arguments must be backed by a business case.

We must have business on board in a constructive and positive way, not simply through legislation but through making that business case for engagement, if we are to tackle the problems of deprivation in communities, an ageing demographic, the challenges of personal fulfilment and engagement that exist (especially amongst younger people), a common understanding of ‘justice’, frankly – not to mention the urgent need to tackle climate change, global hunger and resource depletion that confront us.

The good news is that there are companies and sector leaders who agree with me, as we have heard tonight. The bad news, not to be understated, is that there are counter-trends also – witness how 98% of all new wealth generated in America since the crash has gone to the richest one per cent, and you can be sure that the same pattern is emerging with the economic recovery here, too. It won’t be easy. But it’s essential. And it’s all in ‘Welcome to GoodCo’.

Talking of which, I’d now like to invite the man without whom none of this would have been possible to say a few words – and he also donated the wine! My publisher – for the second time – Jonathan Norman of Gower. …

SPEECH: Jonathan Norman

Thank you Jonathan. Finally: I’d like to make special mention of two people, neither of whom can be here tonight.

Ken Spencer, to whom the book is dedicated, was the founder of a private sector company called CEL, with his colleague Ian McCrae, almost forty years ago. I met Ken in 1973 when we were both students and we shared a Christmas canteen lunch. The second time I met him was in the offices of CEL seventeen years later, in Glossop, in what was to become, in 1997, my High Peak constituency.

CEL was – and is, though Ken is no longer involved – a private sector company which serves only not-for-profit clients through the provision of back-office services – initially to bars run by the National Union of Students. Ken was a huge support to me politically and in providing intellectual stimulation for 20 years and today I am proud to be a non-executive director at Digital Outreach, another company set up by Ken and CEL and still based in Glossop.

A few years ago Ken sold CEL and, with his wife Diana, planned to see the world. A stroke prevented that happening – and although I see him a couple of times a year it is not the Ken I used to know.

Nevertheless I want to pay tribute to the man who taught me for the first time that business could be a force for good.

The second and final person I want to mention was unknown to me until I wrote GoodCo. She was a true pioneer in taming business and persuading it to be a force for good.

Frances Perkins witnessed the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York in 1911; I visited the site last year. 146 women and girls, mostly migrants, died in just ten minutes on that day due to a complete absence of sensible, proportionate and just regulation of the business environment.

22 years later, in 1933, Frances became the first woman to sit in the American cabinet, under FDR. She implemented the International Labour Organisation’s first conventions, oversaw the New Deal and regulated working hours and conditions, and pensions, for millions of employees.

In 2010 her portrait was removed from a mural in the state house in Maine because the Republican governor said that she was ‘anti-business’. She was not. She knew that business created wealth, without which we might all starve.

She knew that, unregulated, business anarchy could be a destructive force, not a constructive one. She knew that with business as a partner for good, focusing on justice and social change, anything was possible. And in 1929, using words I have included in the dedication for the book, she encapsulated for me the humility with which all politicians should approach their craft. Hers are my parting words tonight.

‘I promise to use what brains I have to meet problems with intelligence and courage. I promise that I will be candid about what I know. I promise to all of you who have the right to know, the whole truth so far as I can speak it. If I have been wrong, you may tell me so, for I really have no pride in judgment. I know all judgment is relative. It may be right today and wrong tomorrow. The only thing that makes it truly right is the desire to have it constantly moving in the right direction.’

Thank you, and please enjoy the ice cream, nibbles and wine provided by our three sponsors.