Social responsibility may no longer be a choice

Editorial: Having securitised businesses’ loans and paid their wage bills, it’s not inconceivable the government will decide it wants something in return.

by Adam Gale

In the first month or two of the lockdown, there was an extraordinary feeling of solidarity in this country. We were all in these fearful times together. As video calls blurred the lines between work and home, rigid professionalism gave way to liberating vulnerability, as we shared those fears with colleagues. When we asked people how they were, there was sense that more than ever we actually meant it.

In one of these conversations, London Business School professor Rob Goffee pointed out that the last time we experienced such a cultural phenomenon was in the Second World War - the famous Blitz Spirit. Out of that experience of solidarity and colossal shared sacrifice came the NHS, which was both an extension of wartime policy and the fulfilment of a promise that things wouldn’t just go back to the way they were before.

Could we experience, asked Goffee, an equivalent radicalism after COVID-19? This needn’t be a radical institution like the health service. If we’re imagining what could happen after the pandemic, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility for there to be a shift in the social contract between business and society, a unilateral change in terms to the corporation’s licence to operate.

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