The alignment between government and business is essential if we are to realise inclusive growth

BITC Scotland Director Alan Thornburrow reflects on leading a conversation around responsible business conduct at the OECD in Paris.

When the invitation arrived to lead a conversation with senior business leaders around Responsible Business Conduct at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's (OECD) Global Forum in Paris I was delighted.  The term itself "inclusive growth" was coined by the OECD, after all.

The OECD Global Forum brings together policymakers and stakeholders from business, trade unions, civil society and academia to debate key global social and economic challenges related to responsible business conduct in order to help shape the international policy agenda on inclusive growth.

There is widespread agreement on the essential part responsible business must play in the inclusive growth agenda, both in Scotland and across the globe – and for good reason.  

Globalisation and technological innovation has contributed to a huge disparity of wealth and access to opportunity across the world. The benefits of economic growth are not being felt equally and this inequality of distribution has led to a growing proportion of the population being excluded from the dividends of the global economy: the prosperity, skills, and growth which arise from being successful and competitive. The current rise of populism in politics is to a degree a consequence of this disparity.

It is in the interests of business to foster inclusive growth for a multitude of reasons, such as better operating environments and enhanced market opportunities, a more educated workforce, a larger middle class of consumers with greater purchasing power, and more stable political and social environments in which to do business. Inclusive business practices can be simultaneously good for inclusive growth and good for profitability.

The OECD is committed to supporting the collaboration of governments and businesses through data collection, standard-setting and by providing platforms including the emerging Business for Inclusive Growth in partnership with global non-profit BSR. This platform will facilitate cross-learning and innovation to enable new initiatives for more inclusive and productive societies and economies.

During the workshop I referenced Scotland’s National Performance Framework (NPF) and offered a perspective on the NPF as a model of partnership between government, public sector and business with the aim of delivering the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Scotland. I then invited contributions from prominent global businesses participating in this workshop, including EY, Thales, Fyffes, Michelin, Chanel, Carrefour and BNP Paribas.

Scotland leads the way amongst European nations in our approach towards collaboration between government and business to achieve inclusive growth, as measured through Scotland’s National Performance Framework.

We had a thought-provoking discussion that generated fresh insights around what companies are doing on inclusive growth and why there is an integral need for this platform. Specifically, we agreed there is a need to:

Build a critical mass of companies taking action and to showcase and disseminate best practices across peers and sectors
Provide a space in which companies and governments can align on long-term strategies and partnerships for generating value and inclusive, sustainable growth
Connect bottom-up and top-down movements on inclusive growth both within companies and across broader civil society.

The discussion also covered the importance of measuring and incentivising inclusive growth in business. The role of investors is seen as critical to this. Still too few investors measure or reward organisations for the progress they are making to deliver inclusion and sustainability. For meaningful impact on the inclusive growth agenda this needs much higher priority in investor strategies.

Participants spoke extensively of the progress they are making in-house and better profile needs to be given to this. It was agreed that the Business for Inclusive Growth platform could give more visibility to this and enable best practice and sharing across nations.

The OECD is developing the platform over the coming months and aim to launch at the OECD World Forum on Well-Being in Korea on 27-29 November. I look forward to playing a future role and representing Scotland’s responsible business interests.