The State of Responsible Business in the UK

May 30, 2013

Provident Financial’s 2012 Responsible Business survey reveals the issues which are rising up the agendas of UK firms, and interesting trends in reporting and communication.

The results of Provident Financial’s 2012, ‘Responsible Business in the UK’ survey – prepared and managed by Corporate Citizenship – were released earlier this year. The survey showed that confidence in businesses’ positive role in society remained relatively high with 73% of respondents believing plc’s take their responsibilities seriously. However, the delivery of business against these responsibilities was called into question with only 36% believing that UK businesses are doing enough given the current economic situation.

The Provident Financial survey is distinguished by being based on the views of those actually working in corporate responsibility. Respondents included (in descending order) CR consultants, in-house practitioners, specialist third sector organisations, academics, SRI analysts and the public sector. By tapping the best brains in CR, the survey is particularly helpful in tracking what’s hot and what’s not – a boon when considering materiality whether for reporting or strategic purposes.

In this fourth year of the survey, trends in issue prioritisation are emerging. Notable is the continued falling off in businesses’ desire to work with Government to address social and environmental issues. On the other hand, ensuring that products and services fully reflected a company’s social and environmental commitments’ remained the most vital issue for UK companies. The relative importance of reducing environmental impact rose last year, compared to an earlier downward drift during 2009-2011. With regards to the communications approach, regular updates on performance throughout the year were considered to be more important, up from last year by 8%.

As well as considering business in general, the survey participants reflected on the financial sector. Issues continuing to rise up the sector’s agenda included, ensuring an ethical supply chain and transparency in corporate tax (up 8%).  Improving environmental performance rebounded in 2012, with 76% considering it to be a crucial issue.  

The survey also investigated communications practices and preferences. Asked for examples of companies with good CSR communications practice the survey confirmed the leading status of (in no particular order) Unilever, M&S, Co-operative, Vodafone, BT, Nestlé and Kingfisher. Triodos Bank was picked out as one to watch and commended for its transparency.

Support for online reporting and independent assurance was consistently high (both over 85%). However, the slump in importance of the hard copy CR report flattened with only 38% of respondents considering it an important form of communication. In comparison, 89% of companies felt it was key to include CR within their annual report. More interesting was the rebound in importance of using social networks. This was up to 68% (up 23% from 2010). Perhaps this signals that social networks are beginning to really find their feet in the communications matrix.

Commenting on the survey results, Rob Lawson, Corporate Responsibility Manager at Provident Financial, said: “We are acutely aware that the CR agenda can be somewhat of a moving feast – issues come and go. By tapping into the expertise of those who work in CR, we can not only get useful feedback on Provident’s approach to CR reporting, but also a sense of the issues that we and wider financial services sector should be seeking to address.”