The desire for fairness is a fundamental human attribute. But while we all agree that fairness is a good thing, are we clear on exactly what it means in practice? If a company wanted to think more seriously about fairness, what questions should they be asking themselves and others?
Whether the issue is pay, tax, or environmental harm, it’s clear that many people feel companies are not playing fair, highlighting an ongoing public dis-ease with business. This underlines the importance of fairness to individuals and in society – but also raises a question about whether fairness is a core business goal.
Can business be judged as innately fair or unfair? Fairness so often involves balance and compromise between multiple stakeholders, and there are rarely simple solutions. Should we understand fairness as a choice businesses and leaders make – a choice that depends on how they see their role in society?
Held at the RSA on 5th March 2019 this panel explored what it means for a company to behave fairly, encouraging businesses to think harder about the issue and work towards fairer processes and outcomes. Chaired by Matthew Taylor, speakers included Onora O’Neill, Justin King, Jane Corbett and Charles Wookey.
– How should a company act when the long term success of the company demands cuts and closures?
– What factors decide the distribution of burdens to recover the cost of internalising higher environmental standards?
– If fair pay usually means the going rate for the job, is it unfair to pay the CEO the going rate for their job? Responding to these business dilemmas comes down one question – does fairness matter?
To coincide with the ‘How not to run and unfair business” panel, Blueprint published this paper exploring how business leaders can challenge themselves and one another on what it means for their business to act fairly.
Baroness Onora O’Neill, philosopher and crossbench member of the House of Lords
Onora O’Neill combines writing on political philosophy and ethics with a range of public activities. She comes from Northern Ireland and has worked mainly in Britain and the US. She was Principal of Newnham College, Cambridge from 1992-2006 and Hon Professor of Philosophy in the University of Cambridge. She was President of the British Academy from 2005-9, chaired the Nuffield Foundation from 1998-2010, and has been a crossbench member of the House of Lords since 2000 (Baroness O’Neill of Bengarve). She chaired the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission from 2012-16, and is currently on the boards of the Medical Research Council and the Banking Standards Review. She lectures and writes on justice and ethics, and in particular on the work of Immanuel Kant. Recent publications also address questions about accountability and trust, justice and borders, the future of universities, the quality of legislation and the ethics of communication.
Justin King, Vice Chairman, Terra Firma and formerly CEO, J Sainsbury plc
Justin is Terrafirma’s Vice Chairman. He joined the business in September 2015 and acts as an adviser to the General Partner. With over thirty years of experience working in and leading large businesses, his significant operational insight and experience in business transformation are invaluable in advising the General Partner on potential new transactions.
Justin chairs two Terrafirma portfolio companies (Santander/Brighterkind and Wyevale) and sits on the boards of Everpower, Annington and RTR. Outside of Terrafirma, Justin also sits on the PIB of PWC and is a Non-Executive Director of Marks and Spencer.
Justin was the CEO of Sainsbury’s between 2004 and 2014, where he led the business through a major turnaround which led to nine years of profit growth. Before joining Sainsbury’s, Justin was Head of Food at Marks & Spencer. He held prior roles at Asda, Haagen-Dazs, PepsiCo and Mars in a thirty year career spanning consumer goods and grocery retailing.
Justin has previously served as a board member of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and was on the audit committee of both organisations. He was also a member of the UK prime Minister’s Business Advisory Group.
Jane Corbett, Assistant Mayor of Liverpool & Mayoral Lead- Fairness & Tackling Poverty
Jane has lived in Everton, North Liverpool for the last 38 years and has been a Labour Councillor for the Everton Ward since 2002. Jane is currently the Assistant Mayor of Liverpool & Mayoral Lead- Fairness & Tackling Poverty. As such she has the specific responsibility to act as the Council’s lead in making Liverpool a fairer city and standing up for those citizens who need the most help.
She works collectively with the Cabinet to support the Mayor to drive forward the recommendations of the Liverpool Fairness Commission’s report ‘Come Together’ and to ensure that at the heart of the decisions made about the City’s future there is a commitment to achieving greater fairness and overcoming both the inequalities within Liverpool and those that exist in comparison with other parts of the country.
Chair – Matthew Taylor, RSA Chief Executive
Matthew Taylor has been Chief Executive of the RSA since 2006.
In July 2017 Taylor published the report ‘Good Work’; an independent review into modern employment, which was commissioned by the UK prime minister.
Prior to this appointment Taylor was chief adviser on political strategy to the prime minister. Previous roles include Labour Party director of policy, and deputy general secretary and chief executive of the IPPR; the UK’s leading left-of-centre think tank.