A business case that ignores social issues is no case at all

By

11/05/2017

OPINION | When we talk of the ‘business case’, we usually mean the numbers – the financials and commercial operating model of a business, idea or strategy.

The business case has not traditionally included the ethical rationale or the moral justification. Societal context can usually be gleaned only through market or competitor analysis and economic trends, based on data and hard facts.

Beliefs – as in a moral compass, values or personal principles – are sidelined within such business cases or limited to superficial references to espoused company values (which are sometimes a long way from actual practices).

The lament of those working in people-focused roles, sustainability and responsible investment is that there is a demand for them to present the business case for ethics. They are asked to provide financial justification for what might otherwise be more simply described as the right thing to do.

They’ve risen to the challenge, however, working to quantify and measure trust, reputation and engagement while linking them to recruitment, staff retention and, of course, market share and company performance. But at times, the links have been tenuous. They are easily challenged and often weakened by attribution to multiple factors. Ethics has persistently been considered personal, soft or signalling the beginning of a dreaded slippery slope.

Fortunately, making the business case for ethics is getting easier. Recent analysis and reports have announced that ethical investments can perform above market averages, focusing on the customer is good for business (Who would have thought?) and people want to work for organisations with a good purpose to which they feel connected.

In 2017, to have a business case that does not consider ethics and societal context is out of step and should be called out for what it is: merely the presentation of financial or commercial analysis, which is just one aspect of a business proposition. A true business case will consider all stakeholders, including the environment, and weigh up their interests and needs. It is from this informed and considered position that the true business case can be put forward.

Businesses exist within the context of society and corporations are made up of people. Therefore, factors relating to people and society are integral to the way we can do business and engage in markets. A business case that presents otherwise can’t rightly claim to be a business case at all. Factoring in ethics is as it has always been – quite simply, the right thing to do.

Clare Payne is a fellow for ethics in banking and finance with The Ethics Centre and was a founding director of The Banking and Finance Oath. The BFO’s inaugural Banking and Finance Ethics Conference will be held in Sydney on June 8, 2017. For more information or to register for the event, CLICK HERE.