The tension between the conduct of big business and the pursuit of ethics is a very “Hay” subject. The panel, the former heads of M&S and the CBI, interviewed by the business editor of the Telegraph, is far less obviously “Hay”. For a decade or so Hay was sponsored by the Guardian and the government was Labour. Now the combination is a Conservative led coalition and the Telegraph. Make of that what you will
Rose brought an extraordinary statistic to the table “63 of the 100 biggest economic entities in the world are companies not countries.” Both Jones and Rose put their trust in business over and above trust in governments to get things done. The corollary must therefore be that the pursuit of ethics is best left in the hands of those businesses.
Ahmed opened up comments and questions to the audience early on and it was clear that the audience at Hay is still concerned about leaving ethics in the hands of free capital. Both speakers argued that one of the major issues is turning a consumer demand for ethics in business into a willingness to pay the cost. Value for money and low prices are still the major drivers of consumer behaviour. Rose did concede at one point that the young and old “get it” and established business leaders might be the “Luddites in the middle”.
Walmart, HSBC, Nike and smaller companies like Patagonia all have sustainable business agendas. The mantra from the stage was that this should be driven by market forces in the form of feared consequences rather than by legislation of any kind.