Corporate sustainability starts with a company’s value system and a principles-based approach to doing business. This means operating in ways that, at a minimum, meet fundamental responsibilities in the areas of human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption. Responsible businesses enact the same values and principles wherever they have a presence, and know that good practices in one area do not offset harm in another. By incorporating the Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact into strategies, policies and procedures, and establishing a culture of integrity, companies are not only upholding their basic responsibilities to people and planet, but also setting the stage for long-term success. These Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact fall into four categories, viz.:
- Human Rights
Principle 1: Businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights; and
Principle 2: make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.
Principle 3: Businesses should uphold the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining;
Principle 4: the elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labour;
Principle 5: the effective abolition of child labour; and
Principle 6: the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.
Principle 7: Businesses should support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges;
Principle 8: undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility; and
Principle 9: encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies.
Principle 10: Businesses should work against corruption in all its forms, including extortion and bribery.
Traditionally, probably as a result of extreme shareholder pressure, CEO’s and senior management teams have behaved irresponsibly with seeming disregard for the above ten principles. Their quests to drive revenue and subsequent profit at all costs in many contexts have left people and planet damaged irrevocably. Greed and selfishness have characterised leadership behaviour with devastating results on employee morale, social cohesion and environmental stability. The desire for immediate gratification and reward has translated into recklessness and led to manipulative and toxic environments devoid of value, recognition, empowerment, acknowledgement, transparency and accountability.
It would seem that, for sustainability principles to be embedded in a company’s culture, engagement conversations need to take place at all levels to evoke buy-in and ownership of all the relevant issues. These conversations should commence in the boardroom and with all the shareholders; they should then proceed through all the management and employee levels, including outsourced parts of the business (e.g. security), suppliers (first and second-tier) and communities. Transformation of attitude leads to changes in behaviour, not legislated procedures. Demanding behaviour change is counter-productive – we have to influence all stakeholders to want sustainable processes and systems to create future value, not only for themselves, but for generations to come.
Sustainability is an attitude first, then corresponding behaviour. Sustainability is an executive level deliverable, translated not only into the quality of products and the care and the efficiency of service delivery (what we offer), but even more importantly, how we do what we do (our behaviour). One of the most important measures of company integrity is the degree of value placed on sustainability in all areas of the business.