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Change to corporate law that puts people, planet and profit on more equal footing

New research by B Lab UK reveals strong public support for the Better Business Act, which aims to amend Section 172 of the Companies Act to prioritise people and the planet alongside profit.

UK law currently requires firms to operate under a legal regime of shareholder primacy, meaning company directors too often put profit ahead of society and the environment.

The research, which looks at UK opinion on business responsibility, was conducted by B Lab UK ahead of this year’s Better Business Day (Thursday 16th May).

Better Business Day will see a broad coalition of businesses call to enact the Better Business Act — a proposed change to Section 172 of the Companies Act that would empower company directors to align the interests of shareholders with their employees, customers, local communities and the environment.

Support for the change spans political preferences with voters across the party divide strongly giving their backing; 85% of Labour supporters, 70% of Conservative supporters, and 89% of both Liberal Democrat and Green Party supporters said they were in favour of the proposed amendment to the law.

When respondents were asked about their biggest single motivator for backing the change, looking after people was at the forefront.

Over a quarter (28%) polled believed the most important reason was to protect employees, with recent developments such as the Post Office scandal highlighting a need for change.

This was followed by the need to support the public during the ongoing cost of living crisis (26%) and the fact that businesses should have a legal responsibility to protect the environment (25%).

Around the UK, Wales is the biggest supporter of the proposed amendment, with 86% of people polled there saying the law must change.

The research showed that increasingly the public are looking to businesses to act as a force for good and will prioritise those that do. Almost half of respondents (47%) said that they will only work for companies that show themselves to have a responsibility towards wider stakeholders including their employees, customers, local communities and the environment.

45% also said they would only invest in, and purchase goods from, companies who act in a responsible way, indicating that businesses who prioritise people and the planet have a competitive advantage.

Mary Portas, Chair of the Better Business Act, and founder of Portas agency, said:

“The data is clear. And so is the cultural mood. The British public are crying out for businesses to make a change and make it their legal right and responsibility to look after people and the planet.

We see this demand across the board. From all parts of the UK. All age ranges. All political persuasions. As we head into the election, it’s a challenge the next government cannot ignore.

Thousands of businesses have already prioritised responsible decision-making.  It’s only fair that the government now supports every company – big and small – in their journey towards becoming a better business.”

Chris Turner, Campaign Director of the Better Business Act and Executive Director of B Lab UK, said:

“It’s been three years since we launched the Better Business Act campaign. In that time, we’ve seen a growing majority of the UK public demand more from the companies they engage with, while leaders of these organisations also recognise that we need to change ‘business as usual’. Over 2,500 UK companies from all sectors and of all sizes are now backing the Better Business Act, demonstrating the urgency for the next Government to take action and empower all business leaders to prioritise people and the planet alongside profit.

During a time when people are battling a cost-of-living crisis, global temperatures are rising and inequality is reaching new heights, updating Section 172 of the Companies Act would ensure that business becomes part of the solution to the social, environmental and economic challenges we face.”

During Better Business Day, B Lab UK will be releasing a new video in support of amendments to Section 172 of the Companies Act. The film will show UK business leaders sharing elevator pitches as to why they support the campaign.

These contributors are Mary Portas (Co-Chair of Better Business Act and Founder of Portas Agency), Amy Clarke (Chief Impact Office of Tribe Impact Capital), Chris Turner (Executive Director of B Lab UK and Campaign Director of Better Business Act), Dr Ateh Jewel (Entrepreneur), Safia Minney (Author and Entrepreneur), and Luke Boase (Founder of Lucky Saint).

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