Big business has recently played a prominent role in cultural debates in the name ‘corporate social responsibility’.
However, the heavy investment in burnishing the corporate reputations – such as by backing the ‘Yes’ case during last year’s ‘Marriage Equality’ plebiscite – is producing poor returns.
By endorsing ‘progressive’ causes, business has hoped to earn political protection from left-wing attacks and be allowed to get on with the business of business.
However, conspicuous displays of corporate social responsibility are of penance that buy into the left’s narrative that business is inherently selfish, dishonest and corrupt.
Corporate support for Same-Sex Marriage, for example, didn’t stop the relentless calls for a Bank Royal Commission.
The problem with telling the public is that business has a guilty conscience, is that people will therefore think that business is guilty.
The abject failure of this approach has been underlined by Bill Shorten’s speech this week promising major re-regulation of workplace laws, in which the opposition leader foreshadowed the abolition of the ‘Enterprise Bargaining’ system.
The more flexible industrial relations arrangements that were first introduced under the Keating Labor Government in 1992 have allowed employers and employees to negotiate workplace agreements that boost productivity and profitability, while also increasing wages and guaranteeing jobs.
But at the command of far-Left ACTU President Sally McManus (who thinks unions don’t have to obey the law), Shorten is promising to scrap a system that has helped ensure the nation has enjoyed a world’s record 26 years of unbroken economic growth.
Reimposing union-domination of the workplace is a recipe for taking us back to the bitter industrial disputes and economic stagnation of the 1970s.
Shorten and the Unions have opportunistically seized on the issues of low wages growth and rising cost of living (due mainly to electricity prices) to pin the blame on ‘greedy’ corporations.
The effort to appease the social justice warriors over fashionable gender and environmental issues has clearly done nothing to stop the class warriors of the left from pursuing their core anti-business agenda.
In fact, sending the signal that business is selfish, greedy and immoral has made the political environment worse, and increased the likelihood that people will believe the claim that business is ripping off workers and that reregulation and unionisation of the workplace is justified.
The real way to stimulate wages growth is not to go back to the future in industrial relations, but to recapture the reforming spirit of the 1980s and 1990s that liberated the engines of productivity growth and led to real wage increases.
Ideally, this would involve revision of elements of the Gillard Government’s FairWork Act that prevents workplaces from operating in the best interests of both employers and employees.
The real corporate social responsibility of business to ensure that these enterprises are managed efficiently so they generate profits for shareholders and good jobs, wages, and conditions for employers.
However, it is increasingly difficult for business to make the case for economic reform without this being dismissed as simply more corporate greed and self-interest – an impression which, ironically, has been reinforced by all the corporate pandering to PC causes.
Jeremy Sammut is Senior Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies