Does purposeful mean political?

Friday 19th May 2017— Blueprint discusses the launches of the UK general election manifestos, and how politics might relate to purposeful business.

Dominating the headlines this week have been the General Election manifesto launches: Labour and the Conservatives (as well as the Lib Dems and other parties) have declared pledges of what their government would look like if voted in to power on the 8th June — but what does each one mean for purposeful businesses?

The bridge between business and politics might be smaller than we think.

The Conservatives’ ‘strong and stable’ manifesto has been called “an attack on the free market” with updated regulations on mergers and acquisitions, a review of the business rates regime and promises to support gig economy workers.

‘For the many, not the few’. Labour’s manifesto was described as “prioritising state intervention over enterprise” as it focuses on renationalisation, increased taxation for high earners and rights for workers — such as banning zero-hours contracts and unpaid internships.

Whilst some of the manifestos have prompted outcry and comments from lobbying groups and representative organisations, few companies or business leaders have stepped forward to demand more from the future leaders of our government.

This isn’t anything new. Historically, corporations have chosen to avoid politics in view of the long-term game. However, within the last 6 months, multiple businesses in the US have begun to make political statements — in a bold move to demonstrate to their staff and customers that they do not agree with certain policies or ideologies. Many of the organisations which have chosen to speak up, are companies which state that they are ‘purpose-led’ or ‘mission-led’.

Responding to the new executive order on immigration, in March, Ben & Jerry’s CEO Jostein Solheim wrote an open letter to President Trump on the company’s website, claiming that the move to ban immigrants and refugees from Muslim countries was not only bad for the country, but also bad for business.

AirBnb also responded to the travel ban, with a campaign to provide free and subsidised housing for people who have been affected by the new US immigration restrictions. The CEO made a statement that the new policy was a direct obstacle to the company’s mission of “helping to create a world where you can belong anywhere”.

When a company has a wider focus than delivering short-term returns to their shareholders, they have a better opportunity to witness and respond to a shift in their operating landscape. This broader view has enabled some purpose-driven US-based companies to see that changes to immigration policy were going to affect their staff and customers, increased corporate legislation was going to affect their shareholders and abdicating responsibility for acting on global issues was going to affect wider society.

For an organisation which is truly living out a purpose which serves society, anything which threatens the thriving of society, or the network of relationships which the company is built upon, ultimately threatens the success and financial viability of the company. Therefore, perhaps it makes sense that organisations which view themselves as purposeful, might feel the need to engage with the political system if it will increase the potential for success.

Arguably, some could say that the situation in the USA is more extreme than the one currently facing us in Britain. However, the topics of debate are broadly the same and will similarly affect business performance here: immigration, corporation tax and globalisation are all recurring features.

So: will the same take place on this side of the pond? Will purposeful businesses become more political? And perhaps more importantly… should they?