16 years ago, Tomorrow’s Company published the conclusion of an inquiry into the global company of the future. The tone was positive and optimistic. In the Tomorrow’s Global Company report
of 2007, the assumption was that NGOs and businesses would work ahead of government, setting and committing to ambitious goals. Leaders from 10 global companies and four NGOs could foresee the coming crises of climate, human rights and poverty but were ambitious about working together to tackle these crises. Together they would be a force for good, creating forms of soft law through codes of conduct and agreed statements of principle, thereby raising the standards of behaviour by which all global companies would have to operate.
Last week I attended a public seminar organised by Professor Nina Boeger and Dr Taskin Iqbal of the City University Law School which shook my optimism.
Ever since the first Tomorrow’s Company report of 1995, I have believed that society will push companies to improve their social and environmental performance. Companies would report on their progress; those who made little progress would be shown up and shamed. I called that process “the escalator of transparency”. Companies make commitments and cannot step off the moving staircase. They have to report on progress or lack of it. Transparency and investor and NGO pressure ensure that they move forward.
In one of the papers presented at the seminar, I learned from Dr Lauren McCarthy of the Centre for Responsible Enterprise at Bayes Business School about the harm done to people in the garment industry supply chain
after Covid struck. Contracts were abandoned and people in Cambodia and elsewhere were cut adrift by large companies with little thought given to their wellbeing.