Help us stop big businesses behaving badly

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Phil Orford, Chief Executive for the Forum of Private Business, provides an update on the Forum’s campaign to highlight poor business practices and put business ethics at the top of the agenda in the countdown to the election.

The last few months have been particularly busy for the Forum’s policy team. Our recent Referendum research has made it very clear that the improving economic situation has done little to improve some members’ dealings with big name customers.

The downturn has been a challenging time for all of us, but this can be no excuse for many large companies de-risking their business operations by squeezing the small businesses they work with.

Premier Foods, Mars, and drinks giant Diageo are just some of the big names that have been brought to our attention by members recently, using tactics ranging from increasing payment terms to introducing schemes to claw back cash from their suppliers.

This is creating an ethical deficit at the heart of UK business and prompted the launch of our Business Ethics Campaign at the start of February to protect small businesses, the backbone of British economy.

After only a month of our campaign, we have seen some significant milestones and progress.

Our ongoing work around our Hall of Shame has seen Diageo, the global drinks company, U-turn on its payment terms to suppliers and commit to a 60-day maximum for all SMEs in the UK in line with the Prompt Payment Code.

Persistent lobbying has also ensured moves for greater transparency when it comes to the payment practices of large firms including the introduction of compulsory reporting of payment terms for large companies, and a tightening of the obligations for signatories of the Prompt Payment Code.

We’ve held meetings with large companies like Kingfisher and Tesco to press home your concerns, with positive results. More meetings are arranged for April with Mars high on the list.

We’ve also seen great interest from UK corporates following the launch of our Big Business Ethics Pledge, which challenges the industry to operate openly and ethically. And we were pleased to see the Chancellor answer our members’ calls for a stricter crackdown against multinational companies that avoid tax in Britain in last week’s Budget.

Our progress to date is cause for some celebration, but there is still plenty of work to do. We’ll continue to work hard to make sure the voice of you, our members, is heard by the future policy makers in run up to 7 May and beyond.

Your views are a vital part of our campaign and we are calling on YOU to continue to help us call out those big businesses which have been allowed to get away with too much for too long at the expense of honest, small business owners. Only if businesses to stand up and speak out is a change going to happen.

Remember, if you have evidence of unethical practices by larger firms, we’re here to listen. We can guarantee to keep your identity anonymous if you’re worried about losing business by speaking out. To speak confidentially, call 01565 626016

The fact that big business is starting to feel the pressure to operate more openly and ethically and to treat their suppliers as they wish to be treated is a great step forward. However, we’ll continue to press the political parties to put your interests at the heart of their election manifestos, and for the next government to put small business at the top of the political agenda.