Corporate Responsibility: Profile - Simon Loftus

John Plummer

The chairman of one of Britain's most socially conscious companies has withdrawn it from Business in the Community in protest at weak sanctions on irresponsible members.

Suffolk brewer Adnams withdrew its £3,000-a-year membership of Business in the Community last week and called on BITC to name members with poor CSR records. "There's great public cynicism about firms doing things for show and producing glossy PR reports while continuing to do things that are socially disreputable," said Adnams chairman Simon Loftus. "BITC can't claim to be a campaign group unless it's prepared to tackle these agendas more seriously."

BITC produces a corporate responsibility index to benchmark responsible business practice. But it is reluctant to criticise individual corporate members, whatever their record.

Loftus said BITC should scrutinise issues such as supermarket competition.

"It's a matter of real public importance that BITC could have a helpful voice in raising. And members should be grown-up enough to accept the challenge," he said.

Last month's re-election as a BITC director of former Sainsbury chief executive Peter Davis, who left the supermarket chain with a £2.6m bonus despite failing to turn the company around, contributed to Adnams' decision.

"I felt that it gave out confused messages," said Loftus.

Adnams' support of community schemes in Suffolk helped it to win BITC's Small Company of the Year award in 2003. Loftus said he had received many messages of support from members since his firm resigned.

"There's plenty of concern from people who are trying to promote better CSR and are worried about the issue being misused for PR purposes," he said. "Our resignation can perhaps prompt more discussion about this issue, and maybe it will lead to a debate that shifts the way BITC approaches the issue. Given that the public is incredibly cynical about business in general, it would be a crying shame if they became cynical about business engagement with the CSR agenda."

BITC head of communications Gail Greengross said the organisation was saddened by Adnams' departure and claimed that the corporate responsibility index publicly challenged companies to improve.

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