Finding some headspace during the run up to the Christmas period in our western culture to reflect on the past year is probably a big enough challenge for most of us. Realising that the end of this year also heralds the end of a decade poses an additional task.Sitting in a hotel room, the night before running a training session, I had the opportunity to reflect on my first 10 years of running Ardea International as well as consider some of the trends, challenges and opportunities facing business and organisations during the decade.In July 2009, I set up my business from the kitchen table in response to personal challenges where pursuing a full-time career as a lawyer in the city was not a workable option having found myself divorced with two small children.
CLT Envirolaw (as it was known then) was set up to provide environmental regulatory support to organisations and to implement CSR policies and management systems. The company was founded on the principles of seeking to protect the environment and foster a just society. I now have a small office and team working with me. Over the past 10 years we have worked internationally and across sectors to help organisations develop policies and procedures to ensure that they demonstrate their commitment to the environment and human rights. We provide research and training and have developed an online library of resources, including on-line training, e-learning and toolkits. Our partnerships have grown and our intention to facilitate collaboration on these issues continues to be central to our approach. We seek to promote our clients where we can. My own indefatigable passion to tackle modern slavery was ignited at 8 years ago when I was invited to a conference in London highlighting efforts to tackle human trafficking globally. It was such an eye-opener, I walked away with a conviction that I would use my skills or whatever I had in my hands to help fight modern slavery. This passion has continued, fostered by my own faith and I have had the privilege of being involved in providing evidence to a number of government committees on addressing modern slavery risk, being published in books and journals, travelling abroad to deliver training and speaking at events. The number of slaves is still as high as 40.3 million means that there is a long way to go to end this scourge.
Establishing a (mostly paid) internship programme over 8 years ago has constantly attracted an army of ambitious young men and woman who have contributed to the growth of Ardea International to which I am ever grateful.
Ardea’s workflows have ebbed and spiked – possibly a reflection of working on issues that rely on organizations seeking to ‘doing the right thing’ where legal imperatives largely do not exist. As legislation tightens on this front and consumers increasingly seek to align their purchasing practices with brands and products with their own values we are likely to see the business grow.
Here are my thoughts on the 10 key trends that have influenced the responsible business agenda in the past 10 years::
- Proliferation of standards – voluntary standards as well as ISO standards continue to grow. There is a growing emphasis on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a catalyst to address global concerns around poverty and sustainability.
- Growth in mandatory reporting legislation – in 2016 KPMG reported a 65% increase in mandatory reporting instruments. 3 years on this trend is not seeking to diminish
- The emergence, traction and maturing of CSR (or Sustainability or ESG)
- Climate Change continues to be a transformative influence on business behaviour and with increasing understanding between the links of environmental degradation and modern slavery risk we are likely to see more development in this area in the next 10 years
- Human Rights and business- over the past 10 years the need to ensure that the governance gap that exists between Governments failing to protect human rights abuses by companies and the rise of powerful companies has been highlighted in numerous reports. With the adoption of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) in 2011 provided an authoraitive framework on business and human rights
- Economic advancement of woman and equality – gender inequality and ensuring that woman achieve their full economic potential has been a critical issue. McKinsey reported that 12 trillion dollars can be added to the global GDP by 2025 by advancing woman’s equality.
- Supply chain sustainability – this has become a business-critical issue as global supply chains continue to develop
- Technology advances- the fast-paced increase in technology advances has both advanced innovation to tackle global issues but at the same time can have unintended consequences.
- Rise of economic inequality in the world – growing gap between the rich and poor where Oxfam reported that 82% of the global wealth generated in 2017 went to the most wealthy 1%.
- Demographic shifts and population growth- population growth and social change will challenge business to engage workers responsibly as well as ensuring more flexible and responsible employment arrangements
What does this mean for business and organisations? Without any doubt, those businesses that want to ensure they are sustainable, will have to address how they identify the key issues that will affect them in both the short term and the long term with reference not only to the law and changes in legislation, but how they ensure they meet the shifting requirements of consumers and future employees. Ultimately, they will need to ensure that the culture of the organisation shifts
Looking ahead for 2020, it’s likely that the trends of the past 10 years will continue to challenge business and organisations. For a more detailed summary on how companies are prioritizing their sustainability efforts the BSR 2019 report is useful.