The majority of the UK public believe businesses should have responsibility for planet and people as well as profit.
Seventy-two percent of the UK population believe that businesses should have a legal responsibility to the planet and people alongside maximising profits, according to a recent national poll commissioned by B Lab UK, the non-profit behind the B Corporation movement in the UK and ReGenerate, an organisation promoting purpose-driven business.
The poll, conducted by Hanbury Strategy in May 2020, surveyed 2,175 members of the UK public on their attitudes toward capitalism and the role of business in addressing environmental, societal and economic challenges during the post-COVID-19 recovery.
Of those who expressed an opinion, 76% think that businesses have a significant responsibility towards the environment, while 47% agree that businesses have a responsibility to solve social issues such as inequality, poverty and mental health, compared with 36% who stated that businesses do not have a responsibility for solving these issues.
"It’s clear that the public’s expectations of the role and responsibilities of business have evolved, aligning with B Lab UK and our B Corp community’s belief that business can and should be a force for good. Our approach is to upgrade our existing system so that it is equipped to tackle the profound challenges that we face with the urgency that’s required." Chris Turner, Executive Director at B Lab UK.
While key findings highlight the role of business in solving society’s greatest challenges, negative perceptions of the current economic system span the entire political spectrum and all age groups. The poll found that 76% of those who expressed an opinion believe that capitalism either isn’t working properly or is harmful; however, 53% of respondents did not believe that replacement with another economic system would be beneficial.
“With our current economic model as the operating system responsible for our wealth and wellbeing, it’s clear that the UK public feels it’s in need of a significant upgrade,” continued Mr Turner. “The results of this poll also support B Lab UK’s advocacy of legislative change to the default model of company purpose.” In December 2019, B Lab UK and members of the B Corp community called for an amendment to Section 172 of The Companies Act; specifically, a change to the default model to ensure that business activities have a positive impact on society and the environment, alongside benefit to shareholders.
According to James Perry, Co-founder of COOK and a co-founder of B Lab UK: “Our economic model currently runs on a system that’s no longer fit-for-purpose, focusing business narrowly on shareholder returns, and unresponsive to a world of increasingly limited resources. Any meaningful system upgrade must begin with legislation that enshrines recognition of those businesses which declare, in their articles, benefit to all stakeholders”.
The poll results show that B Corps in the UK are modelling the responsibilities that people now demand of business. This public sentiment is expected to drive more businesses to certify and increasingly adapt their ‘purpose’ to ensure responsibility for all stakeholders. To establish these as minimum legal responsibilities for all businesses, B Lab UK will continue to advocate the systems upgrade that will see the replacement of shareholder primacy, primarily through the amendment of section 172 of The Companies Act.
Poll Results: Highlights
Of those who expressed an opinion (excluding “don’t know” responses) from 2,175 members of the UK public polled:
72% believe that businesses should have a legal responsibility to the planet and people, alongside maximising profits
76% believe capitalism isn’t working well or is harmful to the UK economy
53% do not believe that replacement with another economic system would be beneficial
76% believe businesses have a responsibility to protect the natural environment
47% believe businesses should have responsibility to solve social issues; 36% do not believe that businesses should have this responsibility