Monday, May 23, 2016

Comrades. It's all about jobs.

One of the most memorable moments in the 5th Global GRI Conference last week was when the Minister of State for International Development (United Kingdom), The Rt Hon Desmond Swayne TD MP took to the stage and opened with the greeting: Comrades! It's all about jobs. 

That woke us all up. Minister Swain continued to elaborate, loudly, deliberately and perhaps even a little flamboyantly, in the following way, more or less. (Apologies, I may have missed a sentence or two in my transcript below)

"Let me give you my take on the Sustainable Development Goals.. or as we must now learn to call them, the Global Goals. Fundamentally these will, of course, deliver the disappearance of absolute poverty by 2030, and in doing so, will have created a more prosperous more stable and safer world. But ultimately, these goals come down to one thing: It's all about jobs. It's all about jobs in the end. A livelihood, a job - being able to put a roof over your head, putting food on the table, educating children, providing healthcare, generating the tax revenue which governments require to provide social services - it's all about jobs and if you look at the world, you will see that people are going to enormous lengths to secure a livelihood, a job or a better job. 40,000 people a day are going to the extraordinary lengths of leaving everything they are familiar with, everything they know, leaving their homes in pursuit of a job. Even if we take those who are being driven primarily by conflict, just look at that behaviour.

"Let's take Zaatari, on the verge of becoming the world's largest refugee camp, look at the conditions - they're much better than in many cities around the world with security, safety, reasonable accommodation, sanitation, clean water, food which the World Food Program provides, UNICEF will educate the children. But these people will nevertheless leave because the one thing that it cannot offer is a job opportunity. For a job, these people will risk absolutely every penny they have. It's all about jobs in the end. The world needs 600 million new jobs over the next decade if we are going to avoid a growing army of frustrated, despairing and angry young people who are unemployed or underemployed - exactly the sort of raw material, the circumstances, that generate conflict and instability which is the enemy of any kind of employment. So it's all about jobs.

"Now, I confess as a young economic student to having been enthralled with a right-wing economics professor in my University and his catchphrase was: Well, after all, there's only one thing worse than being exploited by capitalists and that's not being exploited by capitalists. HaHa. He reinforced his ignorance with another of his catchphrases: After all, surely any job has to be better than the alternative, which is daytime television! showing his clear ignorance of circumstances in the real world. If only it were so. So it is not any job, comrades. What if your job literally enslaves as many jobs do in all sorts of different forms? What if your job is breaking your health, poisoning the air or water or the land in which your community lives? What if your job literally costs you your life?It's not any job. We require inclusive growth - those kinds of jobs are actually job destroyers because what they do is generate the very sense of grievance or injustice which is the raw material for conflict which is utterly destructive of any prospect of employment.

"So we need inclusive growth. From where is it going to come? Well, my ideological prejudice will tell you that it certainly won't come from governments. Governments create the circumstances in which there can be inclusive economic growth - by providing a relatively benign investment environment, the rule of law, contract law, light-touch regulation - all those things that are essential to Global Goal number 16 and the targets that underpin it. Equally, the greatest enemy of employment can be a government where there is no rule of law, where there is arbitrary and unpredictable taxation, where there is no creation of successful enterprise, where people get jobs because they are somebody's cousin rather than because they are efficient. Any number of things, I assure you, governments can screw up and drive jobs away.

"I only know of one engine that can release initiative, enterprise and hard work of ordinary people to generate jobs and that is private-sector-led investment - the only sustainable engine of inclusive economic growth. But how do we ensure that those enterprises spend as much time addressing the impact of their enterprise as they do maximizing profit? That is where organizations such as GRI come into being. I think it's a huge compliment, a huge achievement, that just recently the Japanese Stock Exchange has made the GRI standard a mandatory requirement of membership. A huge leap forward in this vitally important set of guidelines for promoting transparency and collaboration. That's why the Department of International Development is so passionate in our support for this kind of initiative.

"May I make three suggestions for ways that we can drive this agenda forward. Firstly, with respect to new technology - let us harness new technology to make those reporting standards ever more up-to-date, ever more relevant and drive that agenda forward. Secondly, let's find ways of ensuring that this agenda - the environment, human rights and these proper concerns of enterprise are brought into the main effort, the mainstream, the core of the enterprise and not tucked away in a compliance department or in a department that ticks the boxes to show that the enterprise is meeting all its requirements. Finally, and most importantly, how do we address and engage those who are not already in this room? The reality is I'm preaching to the converted, otherwise you wouldn't have come to this conference in the first place. How do we engage those enterprises and draw them into this initiative so they too can be transparent and accountable? I know our best brains are working on it."

The message is clear. It's all about jobs. Creating and maintaining jobs, I believe Minister Swain was saying, is the core of a corporation's social impact and therefore accountability. In G4, soon to be reborn as a standard, job creation is not identified as a core material Aspect. There are references to inclusive hiring - but that's about diversity (G4-LA1). There is a reference to jobs supported in the supply chain as part of an organization's indirect economic impacts (G4-EC8). But there is nothing about creating jobs, sustainable jobs, as a core objective for corporations. Should there be? Job creation is often the outcome of successful business, rather than the driver. Companies will tell you they do not do business to employ people but that they employ people to do business. There is nothing about layoffs in the GRI framework and most companies do not tend to report layoffs. Should this be a new performance indicator? In the U.S. in 2015, Forbes reports almost half a million job cuts. I recently heard a talk on a webinar by a Manager at social enterprise Greyston Bakery, whose mission is: "Greyston is a force for personal transformation and community economic renewal. We operate a profitable business, baking high quality products with a commitment to customer satisfaction. Grounded in a philosophy that we call PathMaking, we create jobs and provide integrated programs for individuals and their families to move forward on their path to self-sufficiency." Job creation is as central to Greyston's mission as baking cookies is central to their operation. 

In any event, I thought Minister Swain got his point across very effectively, while demonstrating a sound knowledge of the issues at stake and the global environment in which we live and work. Is it all about jobs? Maybe it is, and maybe it isn't. But I could add that it's not only all about jobs. It's also about an ecosystem that enables people to get to the jobs, develop and thrive, and, ultimately, enjoy an ice cream here and there. I'd like to thank Minister Swain for one of the most powerful speeches at the GRI Conference. IMHO.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Understanding G4: the Concise Guide to Next Generation Sustainability Reporting  AND  Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices . Contact me via Twitter (@elainecohen)  or via my business website   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm).  Need help writing your first / next Sustainability Report? Contact elaine:  


Alan Knight said...

Elaine, I did not go to the conference this year and I did not hear Swayne's speech so I only have your summary to go on. But I must say that my initial response would be much less favourable. Yes, jobs are important. A just and equitable distribution of our efforts and contributions is more important and would create the jobs he asks his 'comrades' (I mean really, did he really use that word?) to think about. He is a hypocrite. He is part of a government that has done more to remove the underlying policy basis for job creation than any other government in a long time. He supports an economic ideology that has created the wealth and income inequality that destroys job creation and that leaves those in jobs beneath a living wage. His claim that it is only the private sector that can innovate and has the wherewithall to invest in job creation is utter nonsense and had been disproven over and over again. This man is a chearleader for a neoliberal economic ideology that is and has been broken for a long time. By squeazing sustainable development into this broken ideology he is doing us all is diservice.

elaine said...

Thanks for commenting, Alan. I don't follow British politics having not lived in the country for more than 25 years and I did not intend my transcript of this commentary to be a reflection on the record of any government or political party or individual politician . I do believe that companies have a role to play in creating positive jobs and wealth distribution - in a sustainable way - and that includes living wage and all other aspects of employment in a sustainable development context. Best, Elaine

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