What does 2015 hold for the responsible business agenda?

2014 is over, and it has been quite a year. We always ask ourselves what people mean when they say 'quite a year'. Is it a good or a bad thing? Perhaps it is a bit of both, perhaps one or the other, but one thing is for sure: 2014 was a year of change.

2014 put a spotlight on the many global issues that need resolving to bring about more equality and better environmental management.  Of course, with each new year also comes a sense of hope for a better future, whatever the previous year has held.

In 2015, business will continue to play a role in delivering change for communities and the environment. The Rana Plaza disaster and the IPPC climate change report cemented that doing business ‘as before’ is no longer acceptable. In a sense, these two examples bring together the environmental and human rights agendas.

We predicted that better and more integrated supply chain management would be key for 2014 and this continues to be the case. Reputation management is a growing driver for managing supply chains more responsibly. But what will this mean practically for business?

Here are 10 trends that we think we will see:

  1. looking beyond legal compliance – legal compliance should be a benchmark for all companies. For those companies operating in markets where the law does not regulate for equality or non-discrimination, or living wages, they will need to understand the potential impact on their stakeholders and investors of not operating to a higher standard
  2. understanding human rights in supply chains – for many companies these issues are not even on the agenda, but employees are part of this landscape and increasingly companies looking to improve performance cannot ignore their own employees, and what the human rights impacts are in the supply chain
  3. looking beyond Tier 2- there is growing pressure from NGOs, government, civil society and the media for companies to become more transparent and take responsibility beyond their Tier 1 suppliers
  4. climate change risk mitigation– business can no longer stick their heads in the sand on this. Changes in climate are already having an effect on business, directly or indirectly either by way of regulation, impact on building or manufacturing premises, loss of supplies, or understanding access to resources might impact the supply chain and operations
  5. getting to grips with management systems – the changes that will be brought into play in 2015 by the revision of ISO14001, the environmental management system held by over 300,000 companies, will have more focus on supply chain and legal compliance. Management systems will continue to play an important role for businesses that want to use a certifiable standard to benchmark themselves against competitors and for the benefit of their stakeholders
  6. procurement law and practices – not only is the law changing to ensure that public bodies are procuring for services and products including environmental and social requirements as part of the criteria to buy, those private companies that are seeking to be more responsible are changing their procurement practices to ensure social and environmental impacts are considered in purchasing decisions
  7. cross sector collaboration – there is growing recognition that strategic collaboration with NGOs can deliver value as opposed to push for change for change’s sake
  8. sustainability reporting – more emphasis from stakeholders and regulators on reports that are honest, uncluttered and reflect material issues
  9. scale, speed and scope of change – this is not set to diminish; big data is only getting bigger!
  10. ESG and responsible investment – on the we are likely to see increased emphasis on ESG data from investors and possibly more interest from investors in shareholders meetings concerning the non- financial impact of companies

Looking forward, whatever the predictions, we hope that 2015 will be a year that marks significant change globally to ensure that we see less human rights abuses and more understanding of embedding responsible supply chains. After all, impacts and risks don’t end with an organisation’s operations.

On a personal level, it’s about using what little means we have to bring positive change, however small, to the communities around us and to our own lifestyles. I know for my part I am going to try and consume less.

What are your personal challenges? What are your thoughts on our predicted trends?

Colleen Theron is a tri-qualified solicitor in England and Wales, Scotland and South Africa. Since 1996 she has advised on environmental issues in complex property and corportate transactions and recently founded sustainability consultancy CLT envirolaw.

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