In conversation with our Board Advisory Panel: Big Issues in Responsible Business

We spoke to two of our Board Advisory Panel members about the current big issues in responsible business, with some handy tips on how SMEs  can start thinking about making changes. Sam McCarthy is Doing the Right Thing Project Manager at Nando’s and Kate Hursthouse is Senior Corporate Responsibility Manager at Slaughter and May.

Responsible business priorities for business as we head into 2019 – what will change?

Conversations are changing, particularly amongst business leaders, in Kate’s experience: ‘They have a deeper understanding of what responsible business is, how it adds value and how fundamental it is to future success. I think we’ll see businesses being more vocal about their responsible business strategies in the year ahead.’

Both mentioned recruitment as an increasing priority. For Kate, it’s about diversity and inclusion: ‘I think the increasing number of reporting requirements are going to secure diversity and inclusion to the top of the priority list. This year saw gender pay gap reporting, but ethnicity pay gap reporting might also be on the horizon.’ Sam thinks that retention is key: ‘From employee development, satisfaction and a sense of wellbeing; striving to become a responsible business really helps create a culture and a business that employees are proud of and want to work for. It’s going to be a key driver in where employees choose to work, and stay. The need to adopt responsible business principles will be more pressing than ever.’

And for Kate, investing in the community is becoming more important: ‘The years of austerity have really taken their toll. What I hear from our community partners is that the numbers of families in crisis has shot up. I learnt from a law centre that 10 years ago, clients seeking housing advice would generally need help with their rights and landlord disputes. Now it’s about helping families with small children who are living on the streets to find emergency shelter. In 2019, businesses might need to consider how much of their community investment should be going into food banks and homelessness charities.’

Mental health and wellbeing – businesses can make improvements

For Sam, it’s about creating an open and honest culture, senior figures leading by example and being able to share personal stories in a safe space to reduce the stigma. ‘Investing the time and resources in this is crucial. I love Mental Health First Aid’s aim of training 1 in 10 people to become a mental health first aider. The training is a simple, practical step businesses can take. Sometimes it’s the smaller steps that help, like switching off at the weekend or not responding to that last email in the evening – and that goes back to the culture of the organisation and what’s expected.’

Social mobility – how can SMEs make a start on improving social mobility?

Slaughter and May enter the Social Mobility Employer Index to help identify gaps in their activities and to understand best practice approaches, says Kate. ‘We’re in the process of joining everything up as part of a firm-wide social mobility strategy to ensure there is a pipeline for socially diverse talent. We have a schools programme that aims to improve young people’s future prospects. On the recruitment side, we have several initiatives including diversity focussed events, using the Rare contextual recruitment system and improving our processes to analyse success rates for applicants from less privileged backgrounds.

Supply chain – make changes to have a positive impact

Diversifying is important in Sam’s experience: ‘Think smaller businesses; women, LGBT or BAME owned businesses. You could also sign up to CDP. Engage your supply chain on their carbon impact to really understand your impact on the planet, and think about the social impact of your contracts. Specify in your tenders that it must create jobs at a local level, apprenticeships for young people or even those out of work through homelessness or rehabilitation. The possibilities are all there to make a real and positive change, and whilst it might be more difficult it’ll ultimately be worth it.’  (For Heart of the City members, we have a range of resources available in our members area to help you do that.)

Developing responsible business activities – tips to think strategically

Sam emphasises the importance of understanding your business purpose first: ‘You have to understand your business purpose, where you operate, your stakeholders and how you impact your community and environment to have a real, tangible impact as a responsible business. Shifting your activity from CSR to becoming a truly sustainable responsible business means engaging the entire business, and not creating a side-line activity focused on local fundraising. This still has its place, but look ahead to the future and imagine where your business will be in 10 years, and how you can get there in a responsible way. These conversations must happen at the top level in conjunction with your business plan to create real change, attract top talent, increase revenue and reduce your impact on the planet.

Kate has three tips for companies new to responsible business: ‘Before jumping into setting up new projects or initiatives, ask yourself:

  1. Is it an issue that needs addressing? Talk to experts like the charities on the frontline in the community you want to help, or look at data to help you identify where you should focus your energy.
  2. Do you have something to offer? Before sending 20 of your top people for a day to paint a fence, think about how they could best use their professional skills to add value.
  3. Is it relevant? Make sure you can tell a story that is linked back to your business about why you are doing something and tell that story at every opportunity. It’s important to be authentic about why you are investing in something.

 What has 2018 looked like for responsible business?

For Kate, it’s been focused on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): ‘We ran ‘Global Goals Week’ in May to internally launch the firm’s commitment to the SDGs. It was a joint effort across our inclusion, community and environment teams, which we’re doing much more of these days. During the week were various events and communications to help staff understand what the Goals are and why it is important for businesses to engage with them, which we followed up with a series of really interesting employee focus groups. There is now lots in the pipeline as part of a new two-year responsible business plan for the firm.

Sam at Nando’s has been looking at food waste and supporting local charities: ‘We’ve been looking at some of our material impacts such as food waste and increasing our food donation programme, “No Chuckin’ Our Chicken”, to all of our restaurants. We now work with over 550 local charities which our restaurants donate chicken to every month. We’re starting to extend these relationships to look at volunteering, work experience and even recruitment.’

Away from the UK, there’s been a big focus on the Nando’s Fighting Malaria campaign: ‘The campaign raises money directly to fund a Malaria Spraying Programme in Mozambique, the country of our heritage and where we source our famous peri-peri chilli. Last year we protected 325,000 lives and that’s only the start. Through our Peri-Farms initiative we work directly with 1,850 small holder chilli farms in four Southern African countries, and through impact assessments we know that malaria disrupts their lives, children’s education and livelihoods.’


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