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Business people must stop feeling guilty because making a profit is not a bad thing, says Giles Gibbons, co-founder of social marketing firm Good Business.
But in the present climate of anti-capitalism protests and dubious Enron-style auditing practices big business finds itself on the back foot in any discourse with the wider society, writes Ross Bentley.
"Anti-capitalists tend to make extreme points, painting all large corporates as creators of child labour," says Gibbons.
"But things are not as black-and-white as that and, in general, capitalism is a force for good - something that has driven social change rather than impeded it."
Gibbons argues that it is time for companies to stop being defensive about their social responsibilities and promote the good things they do. "Rather than trying to minimise the negatives, companies should be maximising the positives," he says. "They are also missing a trick by not communicating the good things they do.
"Your average punters, who are not particularly interested in environmental or social issues, buy products from a company but will not be aware of the good work that company has done," continues Gibbons.
The answer, he says, is for companies to adopt a corporate social leadership policy.
To make this work companies should understand how their role in society can work for the common good, how they can take a lead to show other companies that this stance can work and then communicate it to the man in the street.
"But," warns Gibbons, "you can't just have a few people set aside in a small department dedicated to corporate social responsibility. It has to be omnipresent throughout the organisation - social awareness has to be everywhere."
And the IT department has a role to play. "Technology is a huge enabler of what businesses are doing today," says Gibbons. "Any major change in a business, or any technological innovation, will have a social impact - people must think through what that impact will be."
He says there is also a misconception that companies have to think big in this respect. "If everyone did a small bit then a lot would get done: sponsor a local charity; hold a fund-raising event - many companies find that by inviting their clients to participate in such events they get closer to their customers but at the same time do some good."
Gibbons says it is also time we thought of work as a part of our lives rather than separate from the rest of our lives. "Compartmentalising work and play is old thinking," he concludes. "Trends such as mobile working are blurring the lines and eroding the nine-to-five mentality. You can't leave your ideals at home."