If the shortlists for this year’s Director of the Year Awards are anything to go by, business can indeed be a force for good. Much more than an innovator and job provider, it can be a conservationist and a promoter of good health and wellbeing.
It is nearly 50 years since Milton Friedman wrote: “There is one and only social responsibility of business – to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game.”
Even a quick scan of the online presence of the UK’s largest corporations reveals that business now sees a bigger picture. ‘Responsibility’ and ‘Sustainability’ are front and centre, and prominent in corporate strategies and promotional materials.
What is also clear is that the notion of corporate social responsibility and sustainability, in particular, is still evolving. If ‘social responsibility’ rose to prominence in the ‘50s and ‘sustainable development’ in the ‘80s, today we have the challenge of embedding safety, health and wellbeing as central to sustainability strategies.
When we talk of sustainability "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs", it has been considered by many as an environmental question. When organisations have considered the ‘social’ aspect of their own sustainability picture, workplace safety and health has received very little attention, if any at all.
This is why IOSH (Institution of Occupational Safety and Health) joined with counterparts in the United States and Canada to form the Center for Safety and Health Sustainability. It is our view that a company cannot claim to be a sustainable, ethical, values-based organisation if it continues to hurt people and change the lives of families and communities. It is encouraging that a growing number of organisations share our view.
We are seeing companies like Johnson Matthey, for example, state ‘for health and safety, aspire to zero harm’ as the first goal on its sustainable business framework. And it is easy to identify the drivers behind this trend. Earlier this year, at the IoD, IOSH published The healthy profit, a report that highlights the convergence of social and financial performance.
Business is under more scrutiny from investors, consumers and regulators, it says. New legislation has forced the issue as a response to increasing social unease with work-related deaths, injury and illness. Our report featured an IOSH-commissioned survey of business leaders, which found four out of five said they included metrics on workplace health and safety in reports to shareholders or the Board. The report highlighted businesses that were building human capital in their organisations, engaging with their workforces and getting the best out of their people.
IOSH is proud to sponsor the corporate social responsibility category of the Director of the Year Awards, because we believe they celebrate organisations that see social responsibility as much more than increasing profits. In fact, their success, they believe, is contingent on them being responsible and sustainable.
We wish those shortlisted in all categories the very best of luck.
Director of Strategy and Business Development, IOSH
Director, Center for Safety and Health Sustainability