Why should Article 1 of the UDHR matter to a commercial organisation driven by a profit motive? Why do human rights and the environment matter? There are three arguments for this: a moral one, a business one and an impact one.
The moral argument states that the principles laid out in the UDHR are universal, and apply as much to businesses as they apply to countries, because they represent globally accepted standards of human behaviour that a business should uphold. This certainly is a valid argument, but it is probably not enough to convince those who believe that ‘the business of business is business’.
The second reason Article 1 matters is because of enlightened self-interest. Done well, business will perform better by acting responsibly. Social and environmental concerns matter to the people we work with, the communities we work in and increasingly to the people and organisations who buy our products and services. Furthermore, it helps develop a more secure supply-chain by helping business gain and maintain a licence to operate.
In a more transparent and hyper-connected world, businesses need to be both authentic and visibly a force for good if they want to attract clients, colleagues and stakeholders to ensure their future success.
No business can seriously set out to create an unsustainable business model, and by thinking hard about its future, it will be more likely to solve threats to it (defensive management) and find new opportunities (offensive management).
For a professional services organisation like Freshfields, the opportunities are probably greater than the risks. Clients want to work with organisations who can deliver the highest level of service, but in a crowded market where a number of alternative providers exist, responsible business can be a key differentiator that helps a firm stand out from its competitors. Responsible business says something about the values and character of the firm and the individuals who work in it.
The final argument has to do with the potential for positive change that business can deliver. We can only achieve a more sustainable world if the business community plays an important part.
Freshfields’ Responsible Business approach is focused, compelling and ambitious enough to deliver extraordinary results. The firm has the skills, network and ambition to have a genuine positive impact on society.
Having developed a compelling and ambitious strategy, the real challenge begins: embedding this strategy throughout the firm, so that it is supported across offices, functions and levels of seniority, and so that individuals want to become active participants in its delivery.
One of the things that struck me at Kingfisher are the endless possibilities that open up when people are proud of what they do. People come to work to earn a living and because they enjoy their role, but enabling them to make a difference to the world around them gives them pride in themselves and their employer. This delivers extraordinary results. I look forward to seeing what type of extraordinary things Freshfields will achieve over the coming years.
So, why does Article 1 matter to business? Because it helps define who you are as an organisation. Because it empowers business to make a real difference where it matters. And because it makes good business sense.
Sir Ian Cheshire was Group CEO of Kingfisher plc from 2008 to 2015, and is currently the lead non-executive director for the UK Government and chairman of Debenhams plc. He is also chair of the advisory board of the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, trustee of Business in the Community and president of the Business Disability Forum. Ian is also a member of our Responsible Business Advisory Board.