Doing the right thing - and shouting about it

'Doing the right thing' text on notebook
By David Wood, ICAS Executive Director, Technical Policy

22 June 2015

David Wood says companies should shout about their positive contributions to society more often.  

Companies need to shout about the positive things they are doing.  Too often they are invisible and seen only on the defensive when something has gone wrong, when they are portrayed in the media as villains. 

This was one of the key messages from "The Good Corporation" event held in London recently and hosted by SSE and ICAS.  Corporate business and successful entrepreneurs have a hugely positive effect on our global society. Simply taking a sustainable business to developing countries and employing individuals makes a tremendous difference to poverty levels.

As Tim Montgomery, columnist for The Times, noted, providing jobs, producing good value products and generating the tax revenues which fund public services are hugely significant benefits for the whole of society. 

Replacing aid with trade has had a hugely beneficial effect across much of the developing world.  We should be vociferous about these benefits and not let the occasional failure define us!

Don't get me wrong, companies do make mistakes and do get things wrong.  Like all organisations they are full of human beings with all human frailties.  Controls and corporate governance structures prevent many failures but some slip through.  When this happens, there must be investigation of what and why and how.

Those companies who genuinely seek to do the right thing will apologise sincerely, learn from their mistakes and strengthen their resolve in doing the right thing going forward.

Both SSE and ICAS are proud of their commitment to paying the living wage.  SSE has also developed a methodology for calculating the value of its human resource and can therefore assess the extent to which its actions increase (or decrease) that value. 

Alistair Phillips-Davies, SSE CEO, spoke about SSE achieving the Fair Tax Mark accreditation for their approach to paying their "fair share" of tax and for their transparency in relation to their tax affairs – the only FTSE 100 company to have obtained this.

Restoring trust

As the ICAS Tax Community knows, when it comes to paying tax, fairness is a somewhat nebulous concept, ill-defined by tax legislation, but the aspiration to be honourable and pay the right amount of tax in the right place and the right time must be applauded.

This all chimes with the CIMA Anthony Howitt lecture which I attended in London at the start of June.  Robert Phillips from Jericho Chambers emphasised how "corporate responsibility PR" is dead and that restoring trust in companies is not within their control – all they can do is strive to be trustworthy by genuinely doing the right thing.

Social media highlights corporate insincerity so quickly and comprehensively!  Most failures of trust, he said, were failures of leadership.  New generational attitudes and ways of working mean that CEOs are really no longer in control.  Instead, our leaders need to recognise the new complex environments in companies, and seek to influence and persuade each and every employee to live the company's values and always "do the right thing".

Later in 2015 ICAS is will be embarking on a campaign – the Power of One - to encourage its members to demonstrate ethical leadership.  We are going to ask and encourage our members to use the fundamental ethical principles in our ethical code as a platform to influence those around them – colleagues, bosses, report staff, friends and family.

Our aspiration is that our members can be a force for good in business and society, and no matter where they are in an organisation, can influence those around them to change corporate culture - to establish ethical values and the imperative of "doing the right thing".


  • Sustainability

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