By Andrew Kassoy, Bart Houlahan, and Jay Coen Gilbert, Founders of B Lab
B Lab has spent the past ten years serving a community of credible leaders who are using business as a force for good. We want to live into the values expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and our B Corp values, which state:
That we must be the change we seek in the world,
That all business ought to be conducted as if people and place mattered,
That, through their products, practices, and profits, businesses should aspire to do no harm and benefit all,
To do so requires that we act with the understanding that we are each dependent upon another and thus responsible for each other and future generations.
Those values make the path forward clear to us. In the current environment of rising insecurity, fear, hate speech, and violence, and in the absence of trust in our economic system, all business leaders have an unprecedented responsibility and opportunity to build a more inclusive society.
We speak now not to one political party, or one niche group — our community of business leaders, our workers, our customers, and our investors span the political spectrum. This is a universal call to live into our values and to build a global movement of people using business as a force for good.
At this moment we call on all business leaders to do two things. First, in this chaotic moment, to stand up and to speak out, together and unequivocally, when we see injustice, hate, and the violence they produce. Second, to take concrete action in our own businesses to create an inclusive economy that is equitable and creates opportunity for all for the long term.
Stand for justice
When we speak with collective voice, business leaders have the power to stand in the way of injustice, to honor the inherent dignity of all people, and to make it possible for us to reach our full potential as human beings, as organizations, and as a global community. Our responsibility to stand for universal human rights and civil liberties is not simply a business imperative, but a moral imperative.
B Lab rejects discrimination, no matter where it comes from or who is targeted. All businesses, which benefit from our diverse society, have an obligation to do the same. We must stand with those civil society and social justice organizations fighting on the front lines to protect the most vulnerable. This means working against any forces that would divide and disenfranchise people based on their identity or circumstances at birth.
We do not want to sell this commitment short. This will be hard. It will require businesses to look beyond what regulation demands. It may require business leaders to speak out against unjust laws, or to resist them in order to protect vulnerable workers or communities. It may require much more. It will always be worth it.
Take action to build an inclusive economy
As business leaders, we must also look to where we are most powerful. It will not be enough to call for justice in this particular moment; we must also create justice through our organizations.
Your business is an employer, a place where people spend their day and a source of salary and benefits for families. Your business has purchasing power that can support communities and causes you care about. Your business’s activities and products affect the global environment — and rely on it. And as a business leader, you have an influential voice in your community and with your elected officials.
Our businesses are powerful tools that we can use to create a more inclusive economy, and ultimately a more inclusive society. Doing that effectively will require listening to all those who are systemically disaffected and disenfranchised — whether through racism, misogyny, xenophobia, classism, ableism, homo- and transphobia, or other institutional and historic forms of oppression. People who have been marginalized and exploited by our current economic system exist across the political spectrum in rural and urban communities around the world. In order to restore trust in business, the business community needs to respond to those people’s legitimate desire for jobs with dignity. The business community also needs to make the case that economic justice for all is inextricably tied to, and dependent on, social and environmental justice.
It is clear that government alone cannot or will not solve the problems facing us right now. In their absence, business must play a leadership role in forging a path forward. Thankfully, there are businesses around the world that have been proving that profit can come with the pursuit of a higher purpose — that we can build an inclusive economy that works for all.
What does an inclusive economy look like in action? In Grand Rapids, Michigan, a plastics manufacturer called Cascade Engineering welcomes formerly-incarcerated returning citizens and offers on-site benefits that have helped hundreds of employees transition off of social support. In New York City, a worker-owned cooperative of home health care workers in the Bronx called CHCA provides exceptional care for patients while creating secure jobs and ownership for women of color. In the heart of Pennsylvania Amish country, The Stroopie Co employs recently-settled refugees and offers ESL classes to help them move into leadership roles. In Chicago, Method Products PBC is bringing high-quality manufacturing jobs back to the Midwest, including the South Side of Chicago.
An inclusive economy looks like a living wage for all workers. An inclusive economy looks like a boardroom and management team with the same demographics as the company’s factory floor. An inclusive economy looks like a world in which business creates opportunity for those who have been marginalized, instead of maintaining the status quo while lamenting the constraints of market forces. These ideas don’t require government regulation; they can be realized through the leadership and stewardship of the business community — if we choose to take action.
We are inspired by the leadership of 2,000 Certified B Corporations. They’ve proven that you can do well and do good, and they offer a path forward. But they can’t build an inclusive economy alone. We need everyone. We need you.
One way to begin is for every company to take concrete, measurable steps to build a more inclusive business. Every change your company makes has a real impact on real people.
Think about what matters to you. How can your company contribute? If you need a starting place, consider picking two or three of the practices and policies we have identified in our Inclusive Economy Metric Set. Make a publiccommitment to improving on those two or three. Hold yourself accountable, even (especially) when you fall short. Listen to your employees and your customers. Let us know what you are doing and what you learn along the way so that others can follow your lead.
Your business has the power to make the change you want to see in the world. If businesses like yours take action to build a more inclusive economy, we will improve the lives of millions of people that are touched by our businesses as workers, suppliers, customers, and local communities. We will rebuild an economic system worthy of people’s trust. We will create a more shared and durable prosperity for all. We will change our society — for good.
This article first appeared on B the Change Medium.