Like the idea of a 'sports personality of the year', there are
those who will believe that the phrase 'GoodCorporation' is a
contradiction in terms.
Such people will be among the target audience for an organisation
offering an ethics accreditation service for organisations big and
When it opens for business early next month, GoodCorporation will ask
organisations to sign up to a charter of 21 ethical statements covering
not only the usual suspects of employment and the environment but
treatment of customers, suppliers and shareholders.
But before winning the right to use the service's logo - a green-tinged
open hand - organisations will have to pay between pounds 2,000 and
This will fund an inspection aimed at ensuring that the applicant does
not just pay lip-service to bits of paper.
They will be expected to provide evidence of practising what they
preach - with annual verification to encourage not just continued
compliance but continuous improvement.
GoodCorporation, started by two former senior economists at consultancy
and audit giant KPMG, is pitching at organisations of all sizes and with
a varietyof track records.
MD Leo Martin acknowledges that initially he is expecting much of the
business to come from bigger firms with relatively good corporate social
'Our hope is that a lot of the large listed companies will use it in
procurement. Some already ask their suppliers these sort of questions
but there is no verification. We will probably start off with the
evangelists and then spread out,' he says.
But firms signing up risk 'doing a Nike', making some genuine
improvements to their record on issues such as child labour only to face
extra media scrutiny for allegedly failing to meet standards they set
Martin agrees those claiming the moral high ground are open to
allegations of hypocrisy for any slip-up, but he says there is a process
of 'consumer education' to go through: 'Often companies such as Shell
and BP are attacked more than their rivals despite improving.
GoodCorporation is a deliberately provocative name because you have
people saying "how can you say this is a good corporation?"'
Martin hopes to ease such concerns by pledging the verification process
will be 'totally transparent' and backed-up by an accreditation council
with representation drawn from trade unions, business and NGOs.
This body within GoodCorporation will study any disputes - including
allegations of charter breaches from individuals or pressure groups. The
chartermark is more likely to be recognised on a business-to-business
basis, rather than as a marketing tool among the general public.
Claiming a 'fantastic response' from some listed companies already
approached, Martin is encouraged by the diversity of those who have
'We are not just dealing with PR people but with human resources
directors and, in one case, a very senior finance director fed up with
the pressure he is getting from investors on the environment and human
rights issues,' he says. 'It has got to be embedded in the
organisation - not just PR gloss. That's why we focus on policy,
procedures and activities.'
He hopes PR departments will recognise what accreditation means and the
possibilities of using the badge as a verified promotional tool.
Martin and his colleagues have garnered an impressive list of
supporters, with an advisory panel including Sir Alan Budd, former chief
economic adviser to the Government, and Industrial Society CEO and
former Observer editor Will Hutton.
Ken Rushton, director of the Institute of Business Ethics (IBE), says:
'The evidence we have gathered at the IBE shows that many small firms
run their businesses as ethically as any multinational. The
GoodCorporation network gives them the chance to demonstrate this to
customers they serve and to the communities in which they work.'
The system has been piloted at one part of KPMG. Tim Roberts, PR
director, says the accreditation will 'feed into reputation
'Having external independent accreditation of our activities in a
specific area gives greater enhancement and endorsement to our message,'
Peter Wood, business director with Guildford College, which also piloted
the scheme, says it complements a range of benchmarking systems, such as
Investors in People.
Although Wood thinks it unlikely the charter will lure more students, he
believes it could impress businesses and organisations the college is
looking to work with: 'We work with major organisations and hopefully
this will give them reassurance that their own practices match the
Nicky Hayward, who with her husband owns the Seaview hotel on the Isle
of Wight, likewise took part in a GoodCorporation pilot. For her,
striving for improvement is an important part of combating the Basil
She accepts that signing up to the charter leaves her business open to
the charge of hypocrisy if an employee, customer or campaigner has a
grievance against the hotel. But she says: 'I have put my head above the
parapet continuously and if you do that you get shot at. But I believe
very strongly it will be to the long-term benefit of my industry.'
She cautions, however, that at a minimum cost of pounds 2,000, the
initiative might be pricing itself out of the reach of many smaller