Act like Amazon or save the Amazon?

By Sep 03, 2015

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We can choose to buy from, work for, and even set up companies that have a sense of purpose beyond profit. But how do we spot them?

In the digital age, the demand for information, often just a click or a ‘google’ away, is immense. At the same time public interest in the inner-workings of organisations, their ethics, standards and practices, is growing.

As a business, it’s not enough to simply say you’re ethical; you need to be able to prove it. Today there are a number of ways to do this (see the list below). And companies are beginning to take notice.

The view from inside an ethical bank

From my vantage point, inside an ethical bank that lends its savers’ money to charities and social enterprises, I can see the potential for ethical business to grow. Charity Bank’s strong community - people who really care about where their money ends up - fuels my optimism, as do recent events…

The exposure of Amazon’s treatment of its employees, pushing people to their physical and mental limits in the name of production and profit, instantly provoked public outrage. It also sparked action, a petition on change.org to make Amazon UK pay their workers the Living Wage, along with the publication of an Amazon-free shopping guide.

Disenchantment with corporates

It must be sinking in. We care about how companies treat people, what sort of activities they’re invested in and how they affect the environment.

Anyone attuned to the current tone of Twitter and the blogosphere will recognise the growing public interest in the way businesses operate. The feeling towards companies which pay little or no attention to purpose and values is pure disenchantment, neatly captured by Dom Jackman, founder of Escape The City, in his blog “Dear Corporates: A quarter of a million of your workforce are escaping…"

The ball is in our court.

We can choose to buy from, work for, and even set up companies that have a sense of purpose beyond profit. But how do we spot them?

Here are some steps that Charity Bank has taken to point people towards its ethical credentials and a few other ways of identifying ‘good’ businesses. These are all credible signs that an organisation cares about its employees, society and the environment. Whether you’re someone who wants to check that a business is ‘walking the ethical talk’ or you’re a business owner, I’d recommend looking out for them.

  1. The B Corporation certificate. A growing number of businesses, including Charity Bank, are showing that they take their impacts on their employees, society and the environment seriously by applying to become a B Corporation, which provides an independent certification of ethical business.

  2. Living Wage accreditation. Companies that pay all employees the Living Wage can seek an independent certification and become an accredited Living Wage employer. We did this back in 2014.

  3. The Social Enterprise Mark. If you invest at least 50% of your profits in a social mission, you may qualify for the Social Enterprise Mark. We became the first bank in the UK to earn the Mark making Charity Bank an independently certified social enterprise. See if you can apply.

  4. Measuring and sharing social and environmental impacts. This is something that’s core to our business of lending to charities and social enterprises. We share information about our loans on our website so that savers can see the impact their savings are having. See our approach here. There’s no standard approach to accounting for impact on society and the environment but there are some useful resources and initiatives. The Common Good Balance Sheet is worth a look.

  5. Using finance for good. If you’re a small business or a charity looking to put money away in a savings account, you could consider opening a savings account with Charity Bank, as a way of earning a fair return and boosting your organisation’s social impact by supporting the work of charities and social enterprises. And if you’re an individual looking to save with an ethical bank, this all helps to show you’re in the right place. You can check out our savings accounts here.

    There are a few ethical banking options out there for businesses, charities and individuals. The space is maturing slowly but surely. As well as Charity Bank, there’s Triodos Bank, Ecology Building Society, Charities Aid Foundation and Unity Trust Bank.You can find ethical and mainstream banks ranked in the Good Shopping Guide’s ethical league tables and more on ethical finance and movements in a blog by Patrick Crawford, Charity Bank’s chief executive here.

As the Amazon storm calms, perhaps it's time to reflect on our own power to redefine success in business. With the tools to raise standards of purpose, transparency and accountability at our fingertips, now is an exciting time.