Welcome to GoodCo: Mathew Little reviews a new book on sustainable capitalism

Completely banishing the dark side of big business is impossible, argues author Tom Levitt, but charities should get behind those companies that are trying

Welcome to GoodCo argues the case for more sustainable capitalism
Welcome to GoodCo argues the case for more sustainable capitalism

What we are asked to embrace in Welcome to GoodCo is the good corporation, committed to sustainable capitalism. GoodCo will not be part of a cartel or register itself abroad to cut taxes, says the author, the former Labour MP Tom Levitt. It will ensure that its chief executive earns no more than 20 times the lowest-paid employee's salary and that it will enjoy a good relationship with unions. GoodCo doesn't exist yet, Levitt cautions, but some companies are trying, and he says it is an aspiration the voluntary sector should get behind.

It doesn't help that two of the organisations Levitt names as "good guys" – Boots and GSK – score nul points when it comes to the GoodCo principles mentioned above. But the deeper problem is that we've been here before, yet the real world keeps scarpering off in the opposite direction. The behaviour management author Charles Handy was writing about the "corporate citizen" in 1998; since then, we've had the financial crash and an intensification of short-termism, and now shares are often traded in seconds.

One hallmark of being a good corporate citizen is paying tax, says Levitt. But, because of business lobbying, UK corporate tax rates are now so low that US corporations see the UK as a tax haven. And this is on top of the fact that $32 trillion is thought to reside in zero-per-cent tax domiciles. We can't squeeze more out of that stone, says Levitt, referring to tax, but the problem is we are squeezing less out of it. Note to author: if you want to discourage short-termism, try the Robin Hood tax, which penalises high-frequency share trading.

Charities can benefit from corporate partnerships – Shelter's partnership with Fujitsu and Alzheimer's UK's Dementia Friends scheme spring to mind – but you will never banish capitalism's dark side. Good and bad capitalism will often co-exist in the same organisation.

Welcome to GoodCo by Tom Levitt is published by Gower, recommended price £55

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