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Sean Haley, Sodexo delivering social value

Quality of Life

Purposeful business: The time for change is now

The British Academy has published its final report on the future of the corporation, spelling out the changes companies need to make to become purposeful businesses – changes that they say lie “at the heart of the future of capitalism, the future of humanity and the future of our planet”. 

Academy president Professor Sir David Cannadine declares in the report introduction that “In 2019 there is a growing sense of crisis and many now agree that our era needs a new way of doing business.” This report highlights that the challenges we face, such as climate change and growing inequality, cannot be addressed without companies themselves helping to drive urgent change. 

Sean HaleyI echo these concerns and support their conclusion that our global problems will only be solved when companies act for the greater, long-term good.

As a company involved in providing services to the public sector, this is not new to Sodexo. We were one of the first few companies in the world to place a social element at the core of its mission when it was founded in France in 1966. Over fifty years later we continue to believe in doing good business in a good way.

In the UK, it is also seven years since the government launched the Public Services (Social Value) Act, and the debate amongst suppliers to the public sector has moved on from whether we should add social value to how we should add such value. 

In recent months, we have had discussions with senior figures at the Cabinet Office and other departments about how we can get social value further embedded into government procurement in a way that is consistent and fair for all suppliers. 

There is clearly a healthy appetite within government to be challenged and pushed to achieve more progress. We know that there are many good examples of social value being implemented by commissioners and suppliers, but the picture is fragmented. For example, we recently withdrew from one public sector procurement because the invitation to tender contained no social value requirements. Such omissions are thankfully increasingly rare and it is much more common for us to be asked to demonstrate how we will benefit a local community by providing jobs, offering apprenticeships, or buying products from local suppliers

Our conversations have also revealed different views about the extent to which social value should be ‘contract-driven’ or be something that companies need to demonstrate before they can bid. There are genuine concerns that social value could become a form corporate window dressing and I believe it is vital that companies live and breathe their commitments – and demonstrate the kind of purpose the British Academy advocates. 

This is really important when trying to tackle an issue like climate change. The science shows that the planet is warming up, and we know too if we don’t tackle climate change now, our next 50 years could be our last. We need to reduce our impact across our operations, not just on specific contracts. At Sodexo, we aim to cut our global carbon emissions by 34 per cent by 2025 by doing things like halving our food waste and promoting recipes using more plant-based ingredients so that our diners can choose more sustainable meals. 

Our commitment to such changes is also demonstrated by our willingness to back our ambitions with financial teeth. In September, we announced that our access to credit – our revolving credit facility – is now explicitly tied to our food waste reduction performance. The more we reduce our carbon footprint by cutting food waste, the cheaper we can obtain credit. 

I believe it is this kind of commitment that the British Academy wants to see with ‘purposeful businesses’ in the future. This has never been an optional extra for Sodexo and our record shows that this approach has also been good for our business. It is manifestly good business sense for companies to safeguard the planet for future generations, to improve the quality of life of the customers they serve, the people they employ and the communities in which they operate. 

The task of delivering the British Academy’s call for a “paradigm shift that redefines business for the 21st century” has already begun and I am proud to say that Sodexo is playing an active part in this change now and will continue to in the years ahead. 

Written by Sean Haley FRICS, regional chair, Sodexo UK & Ireland 

December 04, 2019

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