Making the leap into a sustainable new year?

January 2015

A new year, a fresh start… but how many organisations will boast new resolutions? Ethical Performance talks to key industry players about what they believe will be the prime sustainability issues in 2015 

There is an exciting unanimity among key players in the ethical movement about what 2015 will bring. This is the year that inequality will top the agendas.

“The time is now ripe for change,” says Oxfam’s Ethical Trade Manager Rachel Wilshaw, “The everyday problems of inequality are increasing and as the bottom 40% grow increasingly worse off economies can’t grow because they lack consumers.”

Indeed, even as Oxfam was launching its new campaign Even It Up: Time to End Extreme Inequality at the end of last year, the ILO was warning that wages are lagging behind productivity, and the OECD that ‘trickle down economics’ is holding back economic growth, while in the UK the government was debating its modern anti- slavery bill and the Archbishop of Canterbury condemning hunger in the UK.

Wilshaw hopes that 2015 will be the year when big business finally “gets” inequality. “Businesses have made progress over the past years but there is still a gap between policy and reality,” she says, identifying inadequate minimum wages, pushing costs and risk down the supply chain and a lack of collective bargaining as the three key barriers to a living wage. “Our job this year is to help business understand the difference between their stated ethical policies and what is happening on the ground.”

“2014 saw clear indicators that inequality is coming up the agenda,” agrees Forum for the Future’s ceo Sally Uren, “including but not limited to, Picketty’s ‘Capital in the 21st Century’, Standard and Poors reporting that inequality is damaging the US economy, and food banks becoming an increasing feature of everyday life in the UK. And that’s not to mention the inequality hidden deep in global supply chains.”

“As the the election draws nearer, the growth in inequality is likely to come even more into focus, with the role that corporations play coming under the spotlight,” confirms GoodCorporation director, Leo Martin. “Particular emphasis is already being given to fair tax agenda and remuneration. Businesses are beginning to respond to this with Chelsea FC recently adopting the Living Wage and Lloyds publishing its pay ratios. We expect to see more companies taking a position in these areas.”


Behaviour change
Mireya Alvarez, Impact Investment Analyst at the ethical investment company Nesta also sees grounds for hope. “Over the last few years we have seen changes in the way people behave and more importantly in the way people consume. This has in turn led many businesses to change their behaviour. Many large corporations are choosing to ingrain impact and ethics in their core business model and not something which is just a ‘nice to have’ add-on.”

But there is still a danger that financial services companies will swamp themselves with rules and adopt a tick-box approach to show compliance rather than take the messages on board and implement significant culture change, warns GoodCorporation’s Martin. “We hope that the recommendations of the Banking Standards Review Council will lead to real changes in behaviour.

“If 2014 was the year of the whistleblower,” he continues, “we expect 2015 to be the year in which companies start to evaluate and report on their whistleblowing arrangements.”

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