Business has been improving people’s lives for centuries, creating jobs, driving innovation and extending prosperity.
Certainly business leaders do not try and cause harm to the people that work for them, but often the warped incentives we’ve created to drive profitability put such pressure on the organisation, that we lose sight of the most important part of any company, our people. There needs to be a completely new approach to how we operate as business leaders, one that clearly puts people at the centre of all we do. To do this we need to turn upside down the “old way” of doing business and create a “Plan B”, focused on longer-term horizons and a goal of helping people to thrive, rather than maximising profit at all cost.
We know that much remains to be done. And the news of the last twelve months – from the widely publicized situation of migrant workers in the Gulf States to the harrowing images of the RANA plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh are powerful reminders of the damage that can be wrought.
At a minimum, businesses can start by implementing the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, not only in their core operations, but across their supply chain. Decent working conditions, fair wages and stable communities could quickly become the norm, if encouraged by ethical purchasing decisions. Business can also go further, working with governments to strengthen governance and end corruption.
Depletion of natural resources and excessive release of greenhouse gases also impact negatively on human rights and the wellbeing of people all over the world, especially those living in poverty. Business has an opportunity to explore alternatives that protect and restore ecosystems to ensure a healthier planet for all.
Finally it is time that business leaders use their influence to uphold human rights. Preventing peaceful protests, treating people unequally because of their gender or criminalising people on account of who they love are unacceptable attacks on fundamental rights. Business leaders can and should lend their voice to those pressing for change.
We all stand to gain when businesses makes human rights a priority. Where society thrives, so does business.
*This statement was issued by the following B Team Leaders in Davos this morning:
Shari Arison, Richard Branson, Kathy Calvin, Arianna Huffington, Mo Ibrahim, Guilherme Leal, Strive Masiyiwa, Blake Mycoskie, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Paul Polman, Mary Robinson, Professor Muhammad Yunus and Jochen Zeitz.