Businesses have duty to give back to community

When Amazon’s stock market value hit $1 trillion last month, you might have expected a chorus of praise. But as some celebrated its historic achievement in joining Apple in the $1 trillion business club, others complained about its dominance and voiced concern about its workers’ rights and wages. For all its success, Amazon gets the bad headlines too.

Every company comes in for criticism at some point. It comes with the territory for bosses making tough decisions about hiring and firing and for some companies perceived to be putting profits above all else. If the criticism is deserved, you take it on the chin.

But many businesses make under-appreciated contributions to society through providing meaningful employment, supporting the economy and operating responsibly. A large and growing number also give something back by doing good work in their communities.

This summer, Bradford accountancy group Naylor Wintersgill signed up to the Give Bradford 100 Club. This fantastic scheme enables individuals and businesses to support the region’s disadvantaged communities through a £1,000 annual membership fee. 100 Club members include Leeds Bradford Airport, Yorkshire Building Society and individuals including Nick Garthwaite, President of Bradford Chamber of Commerce, and Kersten England, chief executive of Bradford Council.

At a time when the corporate sector is closely scrutinised, more companies need to show heart and shout about their good work. Schemes like the 100 Club let them do their bit and demonstrate their commitment.

Giving something back is nothing new: walk around Bradford and look at the architectural legacy of industrial giants like Titus Salt and Samuel Lister. I would love to see a new generation of philanthropists putting up stunning buildings in my home city. But there are more realistic ways to help.

There’s a fancy name for a company doing its bit for society: Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Many companies will already be doing CSR without really realising it. It ranges from simple things like charity fundraisers in the office and bosses letting staff take regular time off to lend a hand to a charity or a community scheme. I’ve seen the camaraderie among staff that this brings out. CSR really takes off when it becomes part of the way a business operates and when it forms genuine connection with its community.

Larger companies have more complex, ambitious CSR agendas. Provident Financial works with Participate Projects, a local charity which provides support and advice to third sector organisations. Provident supports cultural life by backing the Bradford Literature Festival. Supermarket giant Morrisons’s CSR activity last year included supporting a national charity to redistribute meals to those in need and working with 400 community groups to redistribute more than 3.4 million surplus food products.

You may have heard of ‘Raising the Bar’, a scheme backed by West and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, which celebrates the work that companies do in the community. At its glittering awards ceremony last year, the Broadway Shopping Centre won in the economy category for bringing new business to the city and law firm Gordons won in the education category for its apprenticeship scheme. The 2018 awards ceremony is in November – if your firm does good in the community, consider an application.

Yorkshire Building Society deserves an honourable mention. In May, it won the Corporate Social Responsibility Team of the Year category at this year’s Third Sector Business Charity Awards. The society delivers financial literacy programmes in Yorkshire’s schools, supports local communities as well as a project which helps homeless young people move to their own homes.

It’s great that Naylor Wintersgill has joined the 100 Club, although I’m not surprised. After all, it’s in keeping with how it does business: its staff choose a different charity for the firm to support each year; this year they chose Cancer Support Yorkshire.

When the 100 Club launched in November 2017, its aim was to get 100 members to join. Numbers are rising, but more are needed. Companies will always have their critics, but the business community has so many great stories about the good work it does. If we want them to be heard, we need to start shouting about it.

  • Dave Baldwin is chairman of Bradford Economic Partnership and chief executive of Burnley Football Club

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