Ethical Performance
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Lobbying – the ‘next big thing’ in CSR

August 2014

In July, it was widely reported that the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, had been “defeated” in his attempts to water down the UK’s carbon budget - which sets out a world-leading, legally-binding target of 50% greenhouse gas reduction across 2023-2027. The Chancellor was on record as not wanting Britain to be a world-leader in fighting climate change, but thankfully many in business took a different view; and it was their lobbying for good that played a crucial role in persuading the Government to stay the course on its previously agreed climate change strategy.

Crucial interventions included one from the influential Prince of Wales’ Corporate Leaders Group, which includes senior leaders from Allianz, Anglian Water, Interface, Kingfisher and Unilever. In all, ten business signed a letter to the UK Prime Minister in March urging him to maintain the UK’s fourth carbon budget at its current level. They wrote: “The UK has a strong tradition of leadership on climate change, underpinned by a cross-party consensus to deliver a low-carbon future. As business leaders we value this clarity and commitment, and wish to see it maintained.”

Such lobbying for good is no flash in the pan. In the US, BICEP’s Climate Declaration (now signed by eight hundred businesses) was influential in emboldening the Obama administration in June to maintain its pursuit of significant, new carbon pollution standards for power plant – arguably, the single largest step to reduce CO2 taken by any country in the world to date.
Nor is lobbying for good a modern phenomenon. The great philanthropists of the industrial revolution realised that legislative intervention can be a great force for good. William Lever lobbied for state pensions, John Cadbury campaigned against the use of young boys as chimney sweeps and Joseph Rowntree made sure that some of his key trust funds were able to ‘change the laws of the land.’

And it’s not just big business that is coming out to play. Smaller players are increasingly entering the arena, such as Co-operative Energy – who in May helped force a little reported Government U-turn on community energy tax relief in the UK. In the US, The American Sustainable Business Council, a national partnership representing 200,000 businesses, has lobbied hard for (and won) the placement of preferential candidates to key administrator positions.

Of course, the glass is by no means half full – the likes of BusinessEurope and the US Chamber of Commerce still permeate their luddite views and wield disproportionate, negative influence. As Christiana Figueres, Executive Director of the UNFCC, has noted: progressive voices are still “outgunned and outfinanced by fossil fuel lobbying.”

But something is most definitely stirring. More and more, businesses are grasping that volunteerism and corporate responsibility will never be strong enough to support pioneers in their competition against the unscrupulous. Public policy intervention is required to change the rules and shift the bar for the allowable lowest common denominator. Across the globe, the logic of lobbying for good is overriding the cultural aversion that has traditionally operated against it – and maybe, just maybe, we can hope again for breakthroughs in trade justice and a global climate change convention.

Paul Monaghan, is director of Up the Ethics and co-author of the new book ‘Lobbying for Good’.  


Ethical Performance readers can save 15% when purchasing Lobbying for Good (Do Sustainability, 2014) from the publisher. Use code EPER15.

UK & NI Ireland | Lobbying

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