Companies need to turn their lobbying efforts toward promoting sustainable public policy.
By Philip Monaghan
Fans of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy will be familiar with the wretched character Grima Wormtongue, the adviser to King Theoden of Rohan. He whispers from the shadows into the ear of the decrepit ruler, urging self-interest and accommodation with evil.
Such is the common perception of how business lobbyists conduct themselves within the labyrinth of government: peddlers of dark influence and maintainers of the status quo. The tobacco sector’s half-century conspiracy to resist health regulation is just one example of why such a negative perception is, in part, warranted.
There is another side to the story however.
Spanning 300 years, there are examples of business and business leaders engaging with public policy and making a substantive, positive difference to people and the planet. In the 19th century it was Lever, Cadbury, Lever, Owen and Rowntree. In the 21st century it is Alliance Boots, Aviva, Co-operative Energy, Gates, GE, IKEA, Khosla, Maersk Line, Moore, Skoll, Unilever, Woolworths and a host of others.
Companies Need to Promote Sustainable Public Policy
Lobbying for Good, co-authored by Infrangilis and Up the Ethics, suggests there is a small and growing group of companies and business associations that have come to the conclusion that public policy intervention is an essential component of the transition to a more sustainable economy.
This is not only a positive development but an absolute requirement to have a realistic chance of reinvigorating serious progress on issues such as climate change mitigation and trade justice. Moreover, it appears most NGOs such as Ceres and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) have reached the same conclusion.
A Rising Bar of Aspiration
The business case for corporate responsibility will never be strong enough to support an isolated company in its competition against the unscrupulous. The progressive vanguard reaches a point where it can advance no further without rendering itself uncompetitive.
That is, unless, advocacy and public policy intervention change the rules and shift the bar for the allowable lowest common denominator.
With the base reset so is the bar of aspiration. New rules enable new behaviors with players competing on a fairer, more sustainable footing. Lobbying for Good describes how far-sighted businesses are rebooting the game, throwing off cultural inhibitions and sticking their head above the parapet to advocate progressive legislative change.
The next phase of corporate responsibility is underway and it is Lobbying for Good.
Avoid Undermining Lobbying for Good
At the same time it is important to appreciate that progress to date on lobbyists behaving better is patchy: just 30 percent of the 1,700 businesses who responded to the UN Global Compact’s Annual Implementation Survey say that they have, “Aligned traditional government affairs activities (i.e., lobbying) with corporate responsibility commitments;” although 60 percent do claim to “publicly advocate for action in relation to the Global Compact principles and/or other UN goals.”
As the United Nations Secretary-General said addressing business leaders at a recent Global Compact Summit:
“Business must restrain itself from taking away, by its lobbying activities, what it offers through corporate responsibility and philanthropy.”
Consequently the choice of exemplars is not straightforward. There are no angels on this earth. So as with any business case study, it is possible to find inconsistencies (Lobbying for Good flags some in places).
Lobbying for Good (L4G) Advocacy Strategy
For those who want to get into the game, though, conclusions are condensed as suggestions for a Lobbying for Good (L4G) Advocacy Strategy. They are practical and broad in scope and crucially, set out a step-by-step process by which companies of all types – big business, mid corporates and small business – can impact public policy.
It also describes the strategic opportunity to get on board the next wave of corporate responsibility, showing how finely tuned and well-delivered Lobbying for Good can be an extremely cost-effective performance and brand-enhancement tool.
Infrangilis will explore each theme – select the issue, build the narrative, mobilize resources and construct the advocacy strategy – in a series of weekly blog posts exclusively here on CSRwire Talkback between now and mid July, culminating with a gaze into our crystal ball to ponder the future of this new wave or corporate responsibility and what government can do to help advocates of Lobbying for Good do even more.
The logic of Lobbying for Good is clear: increasingly overriding the cultural aversion that rails against it and compelling business to act. Getting on board puts you not only in the company of some fantastic business leaders but on the right side of history.
Question is: are you ready to get into the big game?
CSRwire readers are eligible for a 15% price discount on the book if you order Lobbying for Good direct from the publisher (discount code: CSR15).