“That laissez-fairism – capitalism red in tooth and claw – is no longer tenable is, I hope, a given; our wish that the engine of our economy should assume greater responsibility for its actions feels fairly uncontroversial, but on whether the necessary changes should or will be revolutionary or evolutionary, voluntary or regulatory, market-driven or crisis-driven, the jury’s still out … The ‘elephants in the room’, ever easier to ignore than to tackle, are growth (and externalities), reward (and its distribution) and timescale. Without major changes on these fronts, progress – perhaps our very survival – is in jeopardy.” So begins the final chapter former Labour MP Tom Levitt’s new book Welcome to GoodCo: Using the Tools of Business to Create Public Good, and it neatly summarises its premise.
Levitt’s impressive and well researched book makes an important contribution to the debate on sustainable capitalism. He argues with great insight that we need to look beyond the traditional views of the public, private and voluntary sectors, each in its place, as this will hold us back in the globalised, interdependent world of the twenty-first century. Instead, businesses need to work with other sectors in equitable partnerships, going beyond corporate social responsibility programmes and becoming instead good corporate citizens.
For Levitt, a ‘good company’ is one which profitably delivers services that people need; considers and engages its supply chain when sourcing; does not waste resources or exploit communities; values employees through partial share ownership models and has good trade union relations. Taking this starting point as a springboard, he explains the business case for good corporate citizenship through numerous case studies. He acknowledges that his ‘good company’ in its entirety is an ideal, and proceeds to discuss how businesses can be incentivised in practice to operate for the common good, calling for a broader conception of capitalism where businesses reconnect company success with social progress.
By discussing in depth seven companies – ‘The Good Guys’ – who have built a reputation for engaging with communities, while being firmly rooted in the private, for-profit sector, Levitt shows how profitable companies can create genuine opportunities and change for those most excluded from the benefits capitalism has to offer. One of them is Unilever, which, under its Sustainable Living Plan, has set an ambitious target of doubling its turnover within the next ten years while reducing its environmental footprint and increasing its positive social impact. Levitt does not restrict his examples to large businesses and devotes a section of his book to discussing the applicability of his research to small and medium-sized enterprises.
Levitt’s background as a former MP, a consultant on charity partnerships and writer shines through this book and offers the reader an accessible and thorough analysis of the debate around sustainable capitalism and its future. Rightly challenging the tension between ‘doing good’ and making profit, Levitt has produced an instructive guide for businesses and policy makers alike. It demonstrates a vision, and a well-argued case for the greater inter-connectedness of different sectors working for the common good.