In a world that puts profit first, the idea of a social licence to operate seems to be disappearing.
Shareholders are removed from the reputational damage that once kept business owners more accountable for acting responsibly. It’s all about the cheque.
Worker exploitation, environmental vandalism, tax avoidance and market manipulation are goals rather than anathema.
Businesses no longer feel an obligation or responsibility to contribute to the health, education and skills training of their employees. Importing labour from overseas is cheaper and their well-being is their own lookout. Cutting wages is seen as a legitimate way to increase profits.
Environmental regulation is not seen as a safeguard but an impediment to development, described as “green tape” by our temporary PM and “environmental lawfare” by the onion muncher.
Businesses want the government to provide the infrastructure and uphold the rule of law to provide a secure and stable environment but do not want to contribute to the cost of doing so.
And all the economic and legal brains in the country don’t seem able to come up with rules that can make businesses pay the tax they should. Rather, politicians have been convinced that we should reduce their tax obligation in the hope that a few more of them might pay it.
There has been vague talk of naming and shaming.
We have to make it worth their while to actually do the right thing.
We have star ratings showing the energy efficiency of our appliances. We have nutritional ratings for our food. We have ratings on our drivers licence indicating our driving record. We all have a credit rating.
So let’s do the same for businesses.
They should be evaluated on how much they contribute to society, not on how much profit they make from us.
They could be ranked on their environmental impact – ethically sourced materials, waste management, recycling, emissions, impact on water and native species habitat, sustainability.
They could be ranked on care for their employees – living wages, ongoing professional development and skills training, flexible workplaces, complaints handling, occupational health and safety.
They should be forced to publish their company structure and where they are domiciled for tax purposes and how much tax they pay in Australia.
Our governments at all levels should only deal with companies who achieve a certain rating that shows them to be fulfilling their part of the social contract.
A similar requirement should be made for investment by our Future Fund and our industry superannuation funds.
Businesses who do not comply should be ineligible for government contracts or investment and face stringent conditions and regulation for any approvals along with ongoing scrutiny.
At the moment, business lobby groups dictate government policy. Let’s use the power of the trillions of dollars at our disposal to take back control.
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