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Forum Says Business Can Provide the Third Way

8 June 2017 at 8:37 am
Rachel McFadden
In “turbulent social and political” times where social and environmental activists “feel stuck between a rock and a hard place” businesses can progress social and environmental causes, a Melbourne forum has heard.

Rachel McFadden | 8 June 2017 at 8:37 am


Forum Says Business Can Provide the Third Way
8 June 2017 at 8:37 am

In “turbulent social and political” times where social and environmental activists “feel stuck between a rock and a hard place” businesses can progress social and environmental causes, a Melbourne forum has heard.

Speaking at Progress 2017 on Wednesday, four panelists argued that Australian companies are, and can further, advancing fair workers rights, gender equality, and materialising action against climate change.

The panel discussion, Building A Progressive Voice for Business included Australian Council for International Development president Sam Mostyn, Lush Austalasian director Peta Granger, Future Buisness Council special advisor Tom Quinn, and Blackbird Ventures head of operations Sam Wong.

Quinn said the perception that the business sector was fundamentally at odds with progressive social and environmental reforms needed to be re-evaluated.

“I think there is still an ongoing idea, that it is business versus society, business versus the environment. But this is no longer the case,” Quinn said.

“You should use us as allies.”

Each of the four panelists gave examples of how incorporating socially equitable and environmentally sustainable policies into their business models was not only morally and ethically right, it was business savvy.

Granger told an audience of more than 50 that the value-based business model built a loyal customer base.

Granger said in lieu of the Fair Work Commission announcement in February, that Sunday and public holiday rates would be abolished, Lush announced to their staff that they would not follow suit.

“It is important to us that we value the work of our staff. So we are not going to turn around to our staff and tell them: ‘keep working the same shifts we are just going to pay you less,’” Granger said.

She added that abolishing the penalty rate was a matter of choice, and Australian businesses had the option to keep the existing wages the same.

Grange said Lush’s decision to retain penalty rates had paid off both ethically and in commercial sense.

“We talk about ethical business, but really that should be all business,” Grange said.

Mostyn agreed and said she encouraged company boards to always “pay the freight.”

“If you don’t pay the freight, the cost is just absorbed by somewhere else or by someone else,” Mostyn said.

Mostyn said this was particularly the case for failing to provide women opportunities for senior positions.

As a result, Mostyn said, women were put into more precarious working situations, were often underpaid and underemployed and poorer in their senior years, which could lead to homelessness.

Not only does inequality in the workforce have a huge social cost, it also failed to make good business sense – a point Mostyn raised during her presentation at the opening plenary .

Speaking at the Who Run the World, Lightning Talks, Mostyn said including women in senior leadership positions and on boards was a matter of capitalising on the best of and brightest the Australian workforce had on offer.

“I can’t believe we are still talking about ‘merit-base’ if you look at the level and rates of education attainment the idea is becoming irrelevant,” Mostyn said.

She also called for Australian companies to abolish gender-based language and instead of referring to maternity leave, employers should employ the terminology of care leave that would include a broad range of arrangements that would better reflect the care arrangements, child, sick and elderly care, that all Australians were doing.

Mostyn was joined by Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus, disabled rights activist Carly Findlay, Guardian editor Lenore Taylor, Getup human rights director Shen Narayanasamy and Child Health Research Professor Fiona Stanley.

The six women gave their prognosis on the current state of affairs and call on the Australians to act.

While Mostyn called for more equitable workplaces, McManus called on Australians to join the union and Taylor suggested that those that can afford it should sign up to voluntary paywall on the Guardian to support journalism.

Findlay said disabled voices should be included in the conversation and said “there should be nothing about us, without us.”

“When we talk about diversity, disability is still not part of the conversation. You can not be a good feminist if you are not intersectional,” Findlay said.

Progress 2017 was attended by more than 1,500 people from across the social sector.

The third biennale forum hosted more than 60 panel discussions, workshops and keynote international speakers.

Rachel McFadden  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

Rachel is a journalist specialising in the social sector.

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