Muted response to ethical accreditation scheme

The launch of an accreditation scheme for ethical businesses has met with a mixed response from social enterprise bodies.

SEE Companies
SEE Companies
The Social, Environmental and Ethical Companies scheme has been launched by for-profit ethical business consultancy SEE Potential. It will require businesses to answer 35 questions devised with the help of a number of charities, including ActionAid, Christian Aid, the World Land Trust and Survival International. Responses will be checked and answers will be posted on the SEE Companies website.

Companies wanting to take part will have to pay £500 up front and an annual licensing fee ranging from £300 for those with turnovers of up to £250,000 to £20,000 for those with turnovers up to £500m.

SEE Potential’s founder, Michael Solomon, said the increasing claims of ethical responsibility by business in recent years had not always been based on substantial SEE policies.

A survey of 1,000 people, carried out by Ipsos MORI on behalf of SEE Potential, revealed that nearly 80 per cent think companies pretend to be ethical just to sell more products and should back up their ethical claims with proof.

He said: “The level of scrutiny required for accreditation may, at first, be uncomfortable for some businesses. However, they should take reassurance from the fact that people do not have unrealistic expectations of business: they just prefer more straight talking.”

A spokeswoman for the Social Enterprise Coalition said she welcomed any attempt to hold businesses to account but was concerned about the potential for “blurring the lines between companies that create wealth for individuals, albeit in an ethical way, and social enterprises”.

She said: “We are currently working with Rise, the social enterprise body for the south west, on a regional pilot project to develop a quality mark specifically for social enterprise. That way consumers can be reassured that profit is being reinvested for the benefit of the community.”

A spokeswoman for SEE Companies confirmed that the scheme was aimed at social enterprises as well as mainstream businesses, but stressed that people would be able to distinguish social enterprises from other businesses by reading their answers to the 35 questions online.

Paula Howley, projects manager at Rise, said a conversation with Solomon had reassured her that the SEE mark would not be in competition with Rise’s own accreditation scheme, which is due to launch at the end of November.

She said: “My understanding is that the SEE Companies initiative is coming from a corporate social responsibility angle – encouraging large companies to present information regarding their business practices in a more transparent way. This is valuable and does not duplicate what Rise is doing.”

Howley added that social enterprises would be much more interested in the Rise scheme, which is open only to companies whose structures embody the Government’s definition of a social enterprise as a “businesses with primarily social or environmental objectives, principally reinvesting surpluses in the business or community”.

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