Nuttall delivered this year’s annual Ghandi Foundation lecture
by Karen Kahn
Graeme Nuttall, a leading expert in employee ownership in the United Kingdom, called for employee owned firms to embrace environmental, social and governance (ESG) obligations in a speech delivered for the annual Gandhi Foundation lecture.
“The time is right for employee ownership with added Gandhian purpose,” said Nuttall. “What M. K. Gandhi encourages us to consider is a new definition of employee ownership, a bolder definition that defines EO with enhanced corporate purpose, so that employee-owned companies are synonymous with good corporate citizenship.”
The time is right for employee ownership with added Gandhian purpose.–Graeme Nuttall at the 2020 Gandhi Foundation annual lecture
Nuttall noted that some employee-owned enterprises in Britain had already adopted this outlook. For example, Riverford Organic Farmers and Paradigm Norton are Certified B Corporations, meaning they have embraced a triple bottom line, measuring not only profit but social and environmental impact.
Graeme Nuttall OBE is a partner at international law firm Fieldfisher, trustee director of the Institute for the Future of Work, and an executive fellow at the Institute for the Study of Employee Ownership and Profit Sharing. He has helped set the UK agenda for promoting employee ownership. In 2012 as an independent advisor to the government, he wrote Sharing Success: The Nuttall Review of Employee Ownership, which was widely embraced and catalyzed the UK employee-ownership movement.
With COVID-19 upending economies and climate change threatening further disruption, Nuttall suggested that employee-owned firms could lead in achieving the vision of the Build Back Better UK campaign, which seeks a more equitable future and a “shockproof economy that can fight the climate crisis.”
“The employee ownership sector can lead the way in good corporate citizenship by embracing wider corporate purposes as part of what it means to be employee owned,” said Nuttall.
Nuttall’s proposals were endorsed by several UK and Commonwealth employee ownership associations, including the UK Employee Ownership Association, Employee Ownership Wales, Scotland for Employee Ownership, Co-operative Development Scotland, the Irish ProShare Association, and Employee Ownership Australia.
Said Deb Oxley, chief executive of the Employee Ownership Association, “Employee owned businesses tend to have an approach that supports them to do well while doing good. This is why it feels natural to make a call out to every employee-owned company to have a focus of making an overall positive contribution to society and the environment.”
In 2019, Fifty by Fifty similarly identified purpose-driven employee-owned firms in the U.S. as “the best of the best,” because they coupled successful business performance with social and environmental impact. Marjorie Kelly, co-founder of the Fifty by Fifty initiative, termed these firms “next generation enterprises”—firms that could anchor a 21st century economy capable of living within planetary boundaries.
Today, we see that “all companies need added Gandhian purpose,” said Mark Hoda, chair of the trustees of the Gandhi Foundation. “The effects of COVID-19 have amplified interest in companies serving a public purpose. Employee-owned companies are especially well-placed to do this, because of the joint responsibilities on employers and employees to help the economy Build Back Better.”
Karen Kahn is a communications consultant and the editor of Employee Ownership News.