Attending the CBI Annual Conference yesterday I’ll admit I was most excited about the Boris Johnson show. But in terms of substance and impact, I’ve taken much more away from the presentation by Unilever CEO Paul Polman.
During his truncated seminar (Boris started late and over-ran) Polman, the head of the world’s third largest consumer goods company, argued in the wake of the economic crash a new kind of responsible capitalism is required. He said companies and the CEOs that lead them need to appreciate not just cash capital, but resource and community capital as well.
He cited the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement as examples of how social networks are empowering groups of people united by a common view, who are now able to have a global impact. This, he posits, will increase. So to keep the support of customers, companies will need to conduct themselves in such a way as to not incur the wrath of consumer campaign groups.
The voice in favour of sustainability, and sustainable procurement, has been increasing in volume over recent years, but largely that growth has come from a minority interest. But yesterday Polman, a strong advocate of capitalism who answers to the board of one of the world’s biggest companies, stood up and argued the case for it. So perhaps buyers should be taking the case to their CEO.