The Blog

Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, Discusses Actions to Achieve Inclusive Capitalism

While there are encouraging signs that momentum is building, there are many things that still need to change if we are to move to a genuinely more inclusive form of capitalism.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

Paul Polman
Chief Executive Officer
Unilever

While there are encouraging signs that momentum is building, there are many things that still need to change if we are to move to a genuinely more inclusive form of capitalism. We need, for example, to root business models in a deeper sense of purpose, valuing social and natural capital and moving away from a narrow focus on shorttermism and shareholder primacy. The concept of value creation needs to be rebalanced, with a greater emphasis being placed on labour and less on capital markets. All these would be powerful enablers to building the kind of inclusive capitalism that many of us seek.

But the single action that would yield the biggest difference would be if businesses were willing to take a greater share of the responsibility for what goes on within the total reach of their value chains. As some have argued, you can outsource the means of production but you can't outsource the burden of responsibility. Yet many today still choose to hide behind convoluted corporate structures, outmoded tax arrangements and intricate supply chains, hoping to avoid scrutiny and comforting themselves with a few token CSR activities. It's not enough merely to put your own house in order. Responsibilities flow upstream and downstream. Indeed it's only by taking co-responsibility for what goes on within the total value chain that trust in capitalism can be restored and the benefits of business can be spread more evenly. That means taking a share of the responsibility, for example, for the way raw materials are sourced and the livelihoods of those who supply them. It means taking responsibility for upholding - and indeed promoting - the dignity and human rights of workers at every stage of the production cycle. And it means taking responsibility for the way products are used and disposed of long after they've left the retailers' shelf.

We can't expect capitalism to be inclusive if we don't accept an inclusive form of responsibility for what goes on in the name of capital. A one dollar t-shirt isn't a tribute to the power of 'the market', it's a perversion of the principles upon which any decent and sustainable society rests, and business is an intrinsic part of society.

It's time for business to extend the reach of its responsibilities, not narrow the grasp of its own self-interest. That is the path to inclusive capitalism.