General Election 2015: Business ethics must be top of the manifesto writers' agendas

 
Phil Orford
Tesco: More businesses should take responsibility for their working practices (Source: Getty)
Tesco has taken the right step towards healing its frayed relationship with its suppliers. The supermarket giant last week launched an online network for its 5,000 suppliers where businesses will be able to interact with Britain's biggest retailer. Whilst it is encouraging to hear that big businesses like Tesco are taking responsibility for their dubious ethical behaviour, there is still a long way to go.
Recently, British heavyweights like Premier Foods’, Debenhams and Monsoon have all been highlighted for their poor payment practices. These offences are proof that the UK is facing a crisis of trust in big business. Companies have been de-risking their business by pushing exposure onto their suppliers and in some cases have abused supply chain finance solutions as a way to increase late payment terms or claw back cash from their suppliers.
Sadly, late payment is just one issue among many other unethical practices conducted by big business. We regularly hear evidence from our members that suggests too many corporates operating in the UK are behaving like unscrupulous operators with little concern for the livelihood of the UK’s small business owners. Tax evasion, high street domination, exploitative labour practices, ‘creative accounting’ and other supplier abuses have pushed small firms to breaking point.
We must not forget that SMEs account for more than 99.35 per cent of all UK businesses and nearly half of all private sector employment. These enterprises have an integral role to play in driving growth, opening new markets and creating jobs and are the lifeblood of communities and regional economies. It is time that these issues are looked at in the wider context of poor business practices and their impact on small and medium sized businesses and entrepreneurs.
There must be a balance between the need to attract the world’s biggest companies to Britain, ensuring we have the best environment for business, and protecting the interests of of the UK’s hardworking independent small businesspeople. We believe that it is time for Britain’s honest workers who play by the rules to have their say and it’s time for their interests to be heard.
Responsible corporates operating in the UK should step forward as exemplars of good ethics. Big business who work in partnership with SMEs to grow local economies, create jobs and local enterprise should put pressure on their peers to step up to the plate. Local parliamentarians have a vital role to play in this.
As the political classes now focus on the General Election, it is important that manifesto writers commit to a programme that ensures that the positive economic growth that multinationals can bring to UK plc is not prioritised at the expense of the regional boost that independent businesses and entrepreneurial activity brings.
Political parties should be judged at the election on their commitment to put business ethics at the top of the political agenda. Failure to do so could break the backbone of the British economy.

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