Thursday, 10 November 2016

Trumping the responsible business agenda

What would a Trump presidency mean for the responsible and sustainable business agenda? 

Even as we question the limits of expert analysis, it keeps pouring in following Donald Trump's remarkable US presidential election victory, coming as it did with Republican capture of both legislative houses.

Well, here is my small contribution (on the issue that I follow).

Overall I think that it is hard to envisage a Trump administration pushing for governmental and regulatory action on the overall sustainability agenda, and on promoting corporate responsibility and accountability.

For instance, a Business and Human Rights 'National Action Plan' is not something one would imagine near the top of any policy agenda.

Yet there are two related points that might be made:

1. Overstating government

Perhaps we sometimes overstate the relative significance of formal institutional regulatory and policy initiatives to the furtherance of this agenda, or at least to preventing, solving and remedying adverse human rights impacts of business activity where these are a risk or reality.

In this sense, this election result may not derail or detain that agenda as significantly as one might suppose. Human rights promotion, level playing fields for responsible firms, remedial avenues, etc cannot be left to non-governmental actors. But governments cannot do everything. Without promoting an abdication of governmental roles and responsibilities, in the Business and Human Rights / corporate sustainability / responsible business field it may be that we have all focused too heavily on what governments ought to do, relative to alternate or parallel strategies to transform fundamental market and consumer incentives, mindsets, behaviours and patterns in ways that might engender faster and more profound change.


2. Under-estimating business

Perhaps we can (or must...) see this outcome as an opportunity to explore further the many vital and vitalised vectors and avenues for corporate, civic and consumer actions (and coalitions thereof) that do not necessarily rely on government to lead or steer.

Indeed the existence of a reluctant or recalcitrant or reclusive government on this score might indeed stimulate all sorts of unexpected enlightened activity in this sphere, often led by business and investors. This may include a greater convergence of the BHR agenda with core commercial ideas about value-creation, productivity, competitiveness and so on.


In short, it is not necessarily all bad news.

(There is also the question of whether / how any deceleration and adjustment on global and regional free trade agendas might affect that emerging body of work on the intersections between trade and investment regimes, corporations, and human rights.)


More generally ...

Its been nearly two months since my last blog-post -- a reflection of just how much information and analysis is 'out there', a volume and pace that does not necessarily make for better-quality decisions.

I can only use the fact of this time-lapse as a metaphor for a point made in some earlier posts about the proliferation of initiatives and normative and reporting frameworks relating to sustainable, responsible and accountable business in society (here is an example).

This flurry of activity is hard to criticise, yet should not be an end in itself, can lead to new indirect definitions of 'compliance' in business & human rights terms, and does not necessarily help us solve the underlying problems.

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