How genuine is big business' new "purpose" paradigm?

Author: The Nation, Published on: 16 January 2019

"Big Business Has a New Scam: The 'Purpose Paradigm'", 4 January 2019

...According to a blog post published by the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the "Purpose Zeitgeist"—their term—has now convinced executives around the Western world that "purpose is an idea whose time has come": not out of altruism but self-preservation. Larry Fink, the CEO of the asset management giant BlackRock, warned fellow managers in a recent letter that without "a sense of purpose," companies "will ultimately lose the license to operate from key stakeholders."...

...Proponents of the [UN Binding Treaty on Business and Human Rights] want it to regulate "in international human rights law, the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises" and to promote international cooperation between governments to limit the power that corporations now have over states. The ICC, on its part, has warned that actually enforceable rules would be a "big step backwards" and jeopardize the "huge success" made under self-regulated corporate initiatives.

 

...However, the truth is that there is no convincing evidence at all of this supposed success. A fast-growing body of reports, analyses, and research, including reports from Amnesty International, shows how self-regulating business initiatives, including the palm-oil certification scheme of Unilever, make no real impact or worse, inhibit real change with a false illusion of progress. "One of the systemic problems that Unilever's 'sustainable' palm-oil scheme refuses to acknowledge," says Eric Gottwald from the International Labor Rights Forum, "is that workers on plantations need independent trade unions to improve their working conditions, not corporate-sponsored "certifiers."...

...By making the systemic causes of poverty and exploitation imperceptible and obscuring the fact that real justice requires a radical redistribution of corporate profits, the purpose paradigm derails and delays progress. As a self-serving corporate fantasy, the purpose paradigm is designed to win trust that isn't earned, perpetuate power that is not legitimate, and preserve a lack of governmental oversight under which corporations compete with each other for profits.

Through college campuses, UN agencies, NGOs, corporate foundations, and aid organizations, the purpose paradigm has taken on a life, logic, and even an economy of its own. But now, the emergence of "Purpose Officers" suggests that the real threat to the bottom line is seen as the dissent that comes from within. Ultimately, CEOs like Paul Polman understand perfectly that it's their own workers—and their ability to define and "embed" purpose on their own terms—that they should be most scared of.

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