Not a week seems to have gone by when we haven’t seen further revelations of a major business name being questioned about the way it chooses to treat its small businesses suppliers.
British heavyweights including Premier Foods, Mars and drinks giant Diageo are just some of the big names that have been brought to our attention by our members recently, and whose business practices have been called into question.
What is becoming all too clear is that the UK is facing a crisis of trust in big business.
One of the worst economic downturns in living memory has been a challenging time for businesses of all sizes. However, it has also led to many large companies looking to de-risk their business operations by squeezing the small businesses they work with, with tactics ranging from increasing payment terms to introducing schemes to claw back cash from their suppliers.
This is creating an ethical deficit at the heart of UK business, and is something that has the potential to limit the growth and prosperity of the “backbone” of British economy – small businesses. This in turn directly impacts on the pace of the ongoing recovery.
What’s more, this view is not limited to the small business community as the dubious practices of some of UK industry’s major players have come under even greater media scrutiny. The result of a recent ComRes poll the Forum commissioned showed that over three quarters of adults in Britain agree that big businesses are more likely to prioritise profits over high ethical standards. A similar proportion of adults also agree that big businesses have no concern for small business owners in the UK.
The results of the poll sent out a clear message that the crisis of trust in big businesses is something of serious concern. It is also a crisis that many people feel must be addressed by the next government in order to safeguard the UK’s small business community, who are key to ensuring sustainable economic growth.
That’s why the Forum has recently launched its five point Business Ethics Pledge, calling on politicians and influencers to sign up to protect and promote the interests of the small to medium-sized businesses we represent.
In the coming weeks we are also set to re-launch our Hall of Shame that has been instrumental in highlighting the worst payment practices of some of the UK’s most famous names over the past twelve years. We are looking to widen the focus from late payment to challenging large businesses on any practices we feel take advantage of their small business suppliers.
We also want to hear from small businesses up and down the country as to the current situation. You views count and by visiting www.fpb.org/businessethics and filling out the survey you can help shape the ongoing debate. All responses will be treated in the strictest confidence.
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 the UK’s hardworking independent small businesspeople.
The UK’s 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 small businesses, the backbone of the British economy.