David Cameron pro-business speech in full

David Cameron: 'Business is not just about making money it’s also the most powerful force for social progress the world has ever known'
David Cameron gave speech today

Read David Cameron's speech defending the ethics of capitalism in full on politics.co.uk.

It is a pleasure to be back speaking alongside His Royal Highness.

Long before corporate responsibility was a big thing...

...before there were buzz phrases like ‘ethical accounting’ and ‘social value’...

....the Prince was there, urging business to do more, to give more and to think more about their impact on the world.

As in so many areas, his long-term, patient, thoughtful interest has been proved absolutely right.

Of course, we have a great history in this country of business doing good...

...from the welfare schemes in Joseph Rowntree’s factories to the housing for workers at Port Sunlight.

But it takes dedicated champions – like His Royal Highness, like Business in the Community – to keep this cause relevant and real.

And today business needs champions, more than ever.

In recent months we’ve heard some dangerous rhetoric creep into our national debate...

...that wealth creation is somehow anti-social, that people in business are out for themselves.

We have got to fight this mood with all we’ve got.

Not just because it’s wrong for our economy…

…because we need growth and jobs…

…but because it’s wrong for our society.

Business is not just about making money, as vital as that is…

… it’s also the most powerful force for social progress the world has ever known.

It can help us to smash poverty, raise horizons, drive the innovations, products, services that make our lives better, longer and happier...

...and yes, as we’ve heard, business is doing amazing things in our communities helping to build bigger and stronger societies.

This doesn’t get celebrated enough.

So what I want to argue today is that those of us who believe in markets, business and enterprise need to come together and prove the sceptics wrong.

We need to say that now, more than ever, we need the creative talents of business, not just for economic innovation but social innovation too.


For me this is particularly important.

Corporate responsibility is an absolutely vital part of my mission for this government…

…to build a bigger, stronger society.

The big society is all about people recognising that they have obligations beyond paying their taxes and obeying the law…

…not just doing no harm, but doing good.

And this applies to businesses just as much as it does to individuals.

Personal and business responsibility go hand in hand.

Now some people have told me I should ditch this approach.

They say it’s not the right time, it’s not popular, it’s a distraction.

I say that core belief – in social responsibility, not state control – is something we’re never going to change.


Because if you look at the scale of the challenges we face…

….from youth unemployment to family breakdown to drug and alcohol addiction…

…does anyone think we can turn these things around just by government changing laws or passing down edicts from above?

Of course not.

We’ve tried the top-down approach to running a country and we’ve seen it fail.

What’s really going to change this nation is collaboration…

…businesses, charities, individuals working with each other and with government to make life better.


Of course, there are those who attack this approach.

As I see it, there are three main accusations.

First, that it’s just a cover for cuts…

…a way for government to duck its own responsibilities…

……with the private sector stepping in to do the job of the state.

Second, that it’s a fig-leaf of respectability for business…

…a way for companies to convince the world they’re doing great things when actually they’re not.

And third, that business’ role in strengthening society is a distraction from its real job – which is making money.

So: businesses’ role in building a bigger society is a cover for cuts…

…it’s superficial…

…and a distraction from making money.

We’ve got to take on all these arguments that belittle responsible business…

…and that’s what I want to do today.


Let’s start with the argument that all this is a cover for cuts.

It goes that when politicians like me talk about responsible business, what we’re really trying to do is out-source the work of government…

…and get social change on the cheap.

The flaw in this argument is that I’ve been talking about building a stronger, bigger society for years – long before the cuts.

Because even if government had ten times the money we do today, there would still be big problems we couldn’t crack on our own.

Take the obesity crisis.

Now government can run public health campaigns…

…it can make other interventions…

…but if the food and drinks industry make it harder, not easier to live a healthy life, we’ll be defeated.

That’s why we’ve signed supermarkets and high street restaurants up to the Responsibility Deal, asking them to play their part...

…like Subway and Costa putting calorie information up front when people are buying.

The point is there are parts of our society that business can reach which the state just can’t.

And then there are those things that business is simply better at.

Think of what the Big Issue has done to give dignity to homeless people…

…or what Marks and Spencer is doing by employing those with mental health problems…

…they are changing the way people think in a way government on its own cannot do.

Business is simply very good at influencing attitudes and coming up with fresh ideas.

This is why we set up Every Business Commits.

It asks business to do more across five areas.

Improving skills. Supporting small business. Protecting the environment. Improving quality of life. Helping local communities.

Norman Lamb, our new Minister for Corporate Responsibility, is going to be driving this forward…

…and the good news for him is that real progress is already being made.

Take skills.

Companies like Serco and McDonalds have set up a new campaign to inspire young people about their future.

Later this year they’ll launch a major website – the one-stop-shop for the best careers advice out there.

Then there’s apprenticeships.

We sent out the call for more companies to come forward and offer them.

The response: more than five and a half thousand new apprenticeship places offered since the start of this year.

This is a powerful answer to the critics.

Asking business to do more isn’t about making do and mending…

…it’s about making things better.

And while we’re arguing this, we’ve got to take on certain snobbish attitudes.

The snobbery that says business has no inherent moral worth like the state does…

…that it isn’t really to be trusted…

…that it should stay out of social concerns and stick to making the money that pays the taxes.

We see this in the debate on education.

Put a young person into college for a month’s learning, unpaid – and it’s hailed as a good thing.

Put a young person into a supermarket for a month’s learning, unpaid – and it’s slammed as slave labour.

Put a child into a great school run by a local authority – cause for celebration.

Put them into a great school backed by a bank – and that is a cause for suspicion.

Frankly I am sick of this anti-business snobbery.

I see companies like UBS sending their workers into the Bridge Academy in Hackney, raising those children’s sights…

…I see Barclays offering over 3,000 work experience placements for pupils…

…and I say that has got nothing to do with cuts and everything to do with improving our country.


The second accusation I want to take on is that corporate responsibility is a bit superficial.

It’s the idea that companies are winning people over without actually changing the world.

The truth is that when this movement began, some of it was quite superficial.

You did get companies practising a kind of ‘moral off-setting’...

…allowing irresponsible things to happen day after day…

…then once a year making a big pay-out to charity to ease their conscience.

But over the past decade or two corporate responsibility has changed utterly.

Today it’s about integrating your values deeply into the soul of your business.

So Starbucks don’t just give millions to charity…

…they also help coffee farmers all over the world to boost their incomes.

BT don’t just support charities like ChildLine…

…they have a great track record in supporting women back into work after maternity leave.

The Business Connectors we’ve seen embody this approach.

Companies like Sainsbury’s, Greggs and Lloyds aren’t just saying “here’s some money”…

…they’re saying “here are our people – our store managers, executives and directors.”

They’re helping shopkeepers devastated by the riots. Setting up mentor schemes. Giving a boost to local charities.

And when they’re finished as a Business Connector, they’ll go back to their job buzzing with new ideas.

This is what it’s all about…

…Doing good and doing well out of it.


That links to the final argument against responsible business…

…that it’s a distraction from the real task of making money.

Milton Friedman once said that the social responsibility of business is to maximise profits.

In an important sense he is right.

Profit-making keeps investment flowing and creates jobs.

Where he is wrong is to assume a contradiction between improving your prospects and improving the world.

Just look at what Unilever have done in India.

They saw a “fortune at the bottom of the pyramid”…

…millions of people who had small amounts of disposable income.

So they developed products specifically for this market…

…like a shampoo that works best with cold water, sold in mini packets which can be bought cheaply.

The customers win – and Unilever win too.

There is a clear, hard-headed business case for behaving responsibly…

…and that’s especially true for building a strong brand.

Businesses live or die on likeability.

People like John Lewis because they know all their staff get a share of the profits.

They like the Body Shop for its work in the developing world.

But they are the exceptions…

…because the vast majority of good business goes under the radar.


Today I can tell you we want to change that…

…to link the good work you’re doing much more directly with public recognition.

This is a government that believes strongly in transparency.

We’ve seen how powerful it can be.

Since 2010 we’ve released unprecedented amounts of public data – and the response has been phenomenal.

Hundreds of millions of hits online…

…a whole new industry springing up to seize on the data and make it user friendly.

All this is backed by new technologies.

Amazon now has an app that lets you scan a product in a shop…

…and see in seconds if you can get it cheaper elsewhere.

Now just imagine the possibilities for responsible business.

You could get people choosing mobile phone companies not just on their tariffs but their carbon emissions…

…or supermarkets not just on price but how green they are.

Now I know many of you in this room are already very open…

…but the truth is that not enough are, and most consumers don’t know where to find that information anyway.

We think this needs looking at – and many of you do too.

Let me be clear.

We’re not talking about heaping more burdens on you.

We want business to lead, devise and shape this new era of transparency.

So today I can announce that we are setting up an informal working group called the Open Business Forum.

Chaired by Philip N. Green, our advisor on corporate responsibility, this is going to bring together companies like yours.

It’s going to ask how we can make business more transparent…

…without making life more difficult…

…and with the help of government.

And for smaller businesses, we’ve teamed up with companies to launch something else…

…an online directory called Trading For Good, showing where small businesses are doing good things, so consumers can know about it and reward them for it.

All this could be the next frontier for corporate responsibility.

Giving more power to consumers.

Changing our culture.

Above all reinforcing that vital link between responsibility and profits.


I want to end by reiterating my core message to you today.

Free enterprise is the best imaginable force for improving our lives...

…and it has a powerful role to play in renewing our country.

As we go forward together I want the relationship between this government and business to continue as it’s started…

…not leading you but collaborating with you…

…not bossing from the top-down but encouraging the changes you’re making from the bottom up.

Working together for more responsible business…

…a bigger, stronger society…

…and a better country.



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