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The Good Business Charter: bridging the responsibility gap

1 September 2020: Jenny Herrera, CEO of the Good Business Foundation, tells ICAEW Insights how her organisation stands ready to spearhead a more responsible approach to enterprise for UK businesses.

Earlier this summer the ICAEW, along with more than 100 other organisations, signed a letter to the UK Prime Minister under the auspices of the United Nations Global Compact and the UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development (UKSSD). 

The letter – and the keenly felt sentiment contained within it – added to the groundswell of business and civic voices calling for a green and socially just, post-coronavirus recovery. 

Jenny Herrera, CEO of the Good Business Foundation, a charity which runs the Good Business Charter (GBC), an organisation that seeks to spearhead a more responsible and fairer approach to enterprise through an ethical accreditation scheme for UK business, is another leading voice calling for such change. 

Despite only formally launching in February, just weeks before lockdown, the organisation has already signed up around 100 top-flights names including Deloitte, outsourcing giant Capita, the Confederation of British Industry, London City Airport and Brompton.

Herrera, a former PwC auditor, says the early success of the scheme is down to a multitude of factors, but primary among them is the fact that “more and more people actually care about how business actually does it work, that they really care that they are responsible.

“There’s been a lot of focus on the environment, but we think it goes wider than that,” continues Herrera. “There’s care for stakeholders, employees, and also paying your tax properly, especially given that recently companies have received government bailouts. There’s real consumer demand for it, but at the moment it’s not very easy to see which businesses are behaving responsibly and which aren’t.”

Grand vision

The GBC seeks to bridge the responsibility gap for companies, welcoming all tiers from blue chips through to SMEs and sole traders.

The vision is to get thousands of businesses signed up to its 10 component eligibility criteria to gain accreditation, then show the GBC branding so the general public can select which bank or coffee shop to be a customer of because of its charter status.

Among those 10 components are paying the Living Wage, being environmentally responsible, employee well-being and responsibility, fairer hours and contracts and promising prompt payment to suppliers.

For richer, for poorer

The idea for the GBC was the brainchild of Julian Richer, founder of the eponymous Hi-Fi and electronic goods emporium, who shortly after selling off that business to his employees last year, pitched his idea to the TUC and CBI, who both embraced its ethical zeal and duly signed up for it - all three are now board trustees.

Herrera, who has been working for the past nine years at another Richer-founded entity, ACTS 435, an online giving charity as its executive director, was asked to set up the fledgeling GBC and drive forward its mission.

The GBC is currently funded via the Persula Foundation, another member of the Richer family, with plans to ultimately morph into a subscription-based model – although it is currently free in the first year.

The organisation is run on a tight budget, with several members offering their support with resource, like the CBI with their communications function for example.

To take up her post at the GBF, Herrera left her role as CEO of ASB Help, a body that seeks to advise victims of anti-social behaviour (ASB) in England and Wales as to their rights in reporting ASB. Through ASB, where she is now a trustee, she is deeply involved in the strategic development of public policy supporting victims of anti-social behaviour.

Resetting values

And like ICAEW, Herrera can see the opportunity to reset some of the values exposed by the pandemic.

She points to the key workers who the nation applauded during lockdown but were “in reality, the dispensable workers who were paid badly and on dreadful terms” and who have made wider society realise that these are people who need to be cared for.

“Business has a real opportunity to build back better, to speak to this space and say that it is not just about getting the economy going again; it’s about being part of the solution,” continues Herrera.

Through its links with the CBI, the GBC is talking to BEIS and the small business minister to take this message to the heart of government and make it a multi-pronged approach. There are also moves afoot to persuade what the government dubs “left-behind towns and cities” to adopt the organisation’s principles and become a GBC city or town, promoting its civic name and people through that medium to help generate renewal.

Herrera hopes that deeper penetration into the very soul of the UK business community can be achieved through trade associations, arguing that the symbiotic benefits to business and wider society of membership are just as relevant to a sole practitioner as they are to Deloitte, for example.

Back to the future

It was while studying maths at Cambridge that a teenage Herrera decided she wanted to be an accountant – before switching to theology.

Having graduated, Herrera worked as an auditor in PwC’s then public sector division, working for housing associations, charities, and the NHS. 

She stayed in London for three years before making the leap to Central America, where she took up a post as field director for the Kids Alive Guatemala charity. There she ran an orphanage for sexually and physically abused girls and a school for girls and boys in a poverty-stricken rural village.

During her six years in the isthmus, Herrera studied for an MSc in international relations and poverty reduction and married a Guatemalan, with whom she now has two young children.

Fast forward to today, and Herrera’s experiences leave her perfectly poised to meet a wider societal need for a more responsible heart to the British business landscape.