HALF of the UK population believes that British businesses fail to make a positive contribution to society and more than two thirds say companies don’t behave ethically, according to a new YouGov poll for business lobby group the CBI.
In a bid to answer public concerns, the CBI is launching a new campaign today – The Great Business Debate – to assess why the public is so disenchanted with business and find out what firms can do to improve their standing.
Launching the campaign in London, CBI deputy director-general Katja Hall said: “One of the biggest concerns that businesses talk to me about is the lack of public confidence in what they do.
“Even with the economy fizzing with vitality, many people do not believe that business is a force for good.
“Things don’t always go right – the economic crisis, alongside high-profile industry scandals, have severely dented trust. Unless business can respond to these challenges, it will lose the right to be listened to on the big issues facing our economy and society.”
The CBI said the campaign will be an “honest attempt” on the part of itself and its members across the country to both listen to and answer public concerns.
The campaign promises to debate major issues such as wages, career progression, diversity, tax contribution, transparency, and company profits.
“Businesses simply can’t operate without their employees and consumers, and part of securing long-term sustainable growth will be about rebuilding public trust in business,” said Ms Hall.
“Let’s be clear, businesses have a lot to be proud of: they support millions of jobs, account for almost a third of total Government tax revenues, spend billions on pension contributions and on training their employees.”
The CBI said that UK businesses employ 25 million people and pay £172bn in taxes.
“I believe there is a good story to tell, but this will not simply be business blowing its own trumpet,” said Ms Hall.
“This will be a campaign that acknowledges up front that business doesn’t have all the answers and sometimes gets things wrong.
“Through the Great Business Debate, the CBI will be working to build a stronger relationship between businesses and the public.”
The campaign launch coincides with the CBI’s latest economic predictions which suggest the recovery is on solid ground, but growth will even out in the second half of 2014 and into next year.
The CBI is predicting 3.0 per cent growth in 2014 and 2.7 per cent growth in 2015.
John Cridland, CBI director-general, said the possibility of a yes vote in the Scottish independence referendum was “the most important risk that the CBI and business are facing”.
“The economic case for Scottish independence has not been made,” he said. “Overwhelmingly, British business believes that the UK should stay together.”
Ms Hall added: “It is a one-way ticket to uncertainty and there is no return.”
Ahead of next year’s general election, the CBI expressed concern about the possibility of a Labour government intervening in the energy sector and other markets, but insisted it was non-party political and was also “not very keen” on the Tories’ migration targets.
“I think it’s clear that business has some doubts about the Labour party proposals about intervening in market,” said Mr Cridland. He urged politicians “to focus on the UK’s long-term economic security, not just on winning the political race”.