You could argue that capitalism is currently having something of a crisis of confidence. There are undoubtedly problems with it. But there always have been and it’s important to remember that, in the midst of today’s uncertainties, it has raised the living standards of billions and moved society forwards in profound ways. But that’s not to say it shouldn’t be held up to scrutiny. Far from it. But let’s be realistic – the rulebook cannot be changed overnight. Capitalism is a messy and difficult business because there are many forces at work. This means it’s not enough for us to simply declare that business should aim to act more ethically to make capitalism work better and be fairer.
If we think about corporate boardrooms and their roles and accountabilities in today’s world, the primary focus should remain aiming for excellence in all that the business does. The terms of that excellence shift a bit over time, with more attention paid today quite rightly to aspects like workers’ rights and ethical supply chains.
But, the fundamentals around delivering with a product or service for customers that improves the world in some small way is not to be sniffed at. Talk about values is important, certainly, but so is continuing to deliver in business on conventional terms. Is it the responsibility of every business to play a part in solving every social and ethical problem? Arguably not. Every business has accountabilities but moving the dial on social issues is something that happens incrementally through the interplay of people and organisations and government in wider society. It needn’t be driven first and foremost by business.