Kye Gbangbola, FCIOB
Racism and climate change are already hitting black communities disproportionately hard, all over the world. They will also be hit hard by the covid-19 pandemic and the economic turmoil that will follow. It is time for change, says Kye Gbangbola.
If the coronavirus pandemic has shown us anything, it is the burning injustice and inequality associated with race. Some 90% of doctors and medical consultants who have died during the pandemic were from BAME (black, Asian, minority ethnic) backgrounds, often after being placed on the front line unprotected.
Racism was constructed to divide and rule, to oppress some and provide entitlements to others. It remains alive and well, a seamless continuous thread built into the architecture of the system, the lessons must be learnt, and a system that works for all, built back.
Legions of reports have, and will be written, telling us what black people already know and have experienced for centuries. In every sector the call will be ‘kick racism out’, the response needed is ‘take action now’.
The brutal murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in broad daylight opened the eyes of the world to the structural and systemic abuse and murder of black people. Black people led the way saying no more, and ‘allies’ from all races came alongside.
For centuries racism has been used to keep inequality in place and to devalue those it targets. Fast forward to the present, and rights continue to be fought over, even while we seek to generate a future where black people can thrive, and not just survive, where they and their families receive their fair measure socially and environmentally. As a society this seems a reasonable request, but to make it a reality, it is up to all of us.
The role of organisations in outlawing racism
Organisations can play a vital role in supporting change, to generate a level playing field. Behaviours need to be consistent, government backed, and enjoy the support of boards and their executives. Diversity and equality are in the interests of the common good.
This will make common sense to most readers. However, there are massive societal gaps in the visibility and representation of race in the workplace. Even in the sector of sustainability, where issues of equality are often at the forefront and are discussed around every board table, involvement of black people has a long way to go.
Covert forms of exclusion come in many forms: being ignored, not being invited to events, being monitored and micro-managed, being overlooked for interviews and promotion, regularly being undermined. Racists are constantly denigrating the black person, forcing them to prove themselves, bullying and asking inappropriate questions that are culturally insensitive given some people’s culture and tradition. They are part of micro-aggressions that seek to ‘put people in their place’.
The former President of the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB), professor Charles Egbu, notes the institute is not given to overt political positioning, but it is right to talk about and support Black Lives Matter (BLM), and consider what role the CIOB could or should play.
Organisations across business sectors are responding in solidarity. CIOB CEO Caroline Gumble and new president Mark Beard have signalled the CIOB’s intention to eradicate the disgrace and stain of racism in its statement on BLM.
Actions to end systemic racial disadvantages
Right now, there is a real appetite for change to end the systemic disadvantage experienced by black people in all areas of life.
Actions can include ‘allyship’: when you see a black person being abused, step in, take on the struggle as your own.
In addition, the collection of reliable and comparative equality data, agreeing levels of representation on boards – there is no shortage of BAME candidates but UK boardrooms fail to embrace diversity – access to credit through lenders, access to tenders and contracts of larger organisations, work risk assessments to protect the vulnerable, support for black businesses, support for further and higher education, apprenticeships with follow-up job opportunities.
Organisations must allow culturally sensitive freedom to speech, and ‘speak up guardians’ who support workers so complaints can be addressed without their names being tainted.
Board members should hold themselves and others accountable, and build networks that support development, they must also commit to anti-racism.
As part of their ongoing efforts to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement, companies including Nike, Twitter and Spotify are shutting their doors to hold protest days while giving employees paid time off. The move is commendable. But as Fortune’s Ellen McGirt observed, black employees deserve more than platitudes and social media statements. Now is the time for real change.
Reporting standards on racism need improvement
Global standards bodies, NGOs, and global institutions like the UN have a duty to support progressive corporate change to drive out racism wherever it exists.
The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is the gold standard of ‘report and explain’ corporate sustainability reporting. GRI disclosure 405-1 covers ‘Diversity of Governance Bodies and Employees’, while disclosure 405-2 covers ‘Ratio of Basic Salary and Remuneration of Women to Men’. GRI records numbers in each employee category, but importantly, not what qualitative assessments are carried out to build equality.
Standards bodies could ask the organisations to disclose what advice and support is given to communities to encourage greater BAME representation on boards and in the ranks of senior executives and managers.
In the encouragement of equal treatment, GRI could give guidance on the key impacts, risks, and opportunities that arise as a result of the organisation’s anti-racism activities and relationships. Targets and performance should be disclosed with an emphasis on integrity.
Making the most of a seismic shift
Since the coronavirus struck, and since George Floyd’s murder, there have been some seismic shifts at every level of society. Government bailouts, senior executives requesting their jobs be given to black people qualified and experienced for the role, volunteers coming forward to feed children and families in poverty.
Major global companies including Lloyd’s of London are pledging to address their founders’ roles in the transatlantic slave trade and genocide, and to make amends for their role in this appalling and shameful period of British history through funding for BAME groups.
In Britain alone, to achieve the abolition of slavery in 1833, slave owners had to be compensated by the government with huge sums of money, equivalent to 40% of GDP, which took until 2015 to pay back. The equivalent of 40% GDP today is just over a trillion pounds. But in 1833, those who had been enslaved received nothing but absolute poverty.
Even Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, says his favourite images of Christ from around the world all depict him with dark skin. He says Christ was not white, and it is important for people to remember this.
Today’s executives want to acknowledge their history and change their culture. They admit to not having all the answers but want to listen to stakeholders to strengthen diversity and inclusion, and outlaw racism and discrimination. They will invest in positive programmes to attract, retain and develop BAME talent as well as supporting community groups.
The enhanced guidance to measure this progress should be provided by standards bodies who must also walk the talk. Black Lives Matter can ask for knees to be removed from necks, but it is the responsibility of the oppressor to remove it. We are taught that all people are made equal; so we must act on racism, and climate change, to build a sustainable world.
Society and the environment are changing, and it is important for disabled people to be embedded in decision-making processes. There are massive gaps in the visibility and representation of disabled people in the workplace. Even in the sustainability sector, where issues of equality are often discussed, involvement of the disabled has a long way to go.
There are 14 million people with disabilities in the UK. This equates to around 19% of the working age population – but disabled people are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people. According to the disability equality charity Scope, life is an average of £570 more expensive each month for a disabled person than it is for a non-disabled person. In addition, 43% of the British public say they do not know a disabled person, and 67% report feeling awkward around disability.
Fig leaf legislation
In 1995, the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) was passed in the UK (it has since been superseded by the Equalities Act 2010). The DDA was considered historic and visionary for its potential to enhance economic self-sufficiency and social participation for disabled people, and its promise to eliminate discrimination for the disabled when it came to employment, the provision of goods and services, education, transport, housing and so on. Sadly, it never lived up to expectations; the soft disability protection it provides has been little more than a fig leaf for companies and governments to pretend they are taking action on disability.
Businesses need to undergo the transition that we have seen in the sporting world, where Paralympians and other disabled athletes are held up side by side with mainstream sportspeople. Disability must be placed higher up the agenda. Presently, many would-be entrepreneurs with disabilities are stunted in their efforts to pursue existing and new business, and disabled university graduates have trouble finding work. The marketplace is limiting its potential growth by failing to include people with disabilities. We need corporate communities that are fully dedicated to enhancing their cultures and increasing opportunities for the disabled.
Organisations can play a vital role in supporting those with disabilities. Before I was poisoned in an environmental incident that paralysed me, my work involved ensuring homes and estates functioned to enable disabled independence. I sought knowledge on the subject in an effort to get the best for those in need, so that they could remain independent. Now that I am in a wheelchair myself, I see how difficult it is to find support in the home, let alone in the workplace. The regulations I worked hard to enact are worth nothing when business leaders turn a blind eye to breaches; at that point, these leaders oppress those they have a duty to protect.
Belonging and acceptance
For a level playing field to be generated, behaviours need to be consistent and government backed, and must enjoy the support of boards and their executives. It is not enough to simply employ a disabled person as the company’s disability officer. A good starting point would be to measure and drive change at senior and executive level. Companies should be proud to report that they have people with disabilities in senior positions.
Measurement, disclosure, accountability, transparency, leadership and reporting are disciplines that my sustainability consultancy seeks to embed as habits within the organisations it works with. The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is the gold standard of ‘report or explain’ corporate sustainability reporting, and it has created the Disability in Sustainability Reporting guide to help companies disclose the percentage of their employees that have disabilities.
In the US, the Disability Equality Index (DEI) measures different organisations’ culture and leadership on disability issues, examining elements such as enterprise-wide access, employment practices, support in initial recruitment and training thereafter, engagement with the disabled community, and support services. The increasing number of companies using DEI indicates a willingness to confront the issue – to take opportunities that boost the involvement of people with disabilities and promote high-level visibility of disabled professionals.
Disability-aware business leaders are able to better understand and leverage the unique differences, talents and perspectives of employees, investors, customers and suppliers with disabilities. Companies that are more transparent and disclose their efforts to integrate disabled people create a culture of belonging and acceptance – ultimately contributing to long-term sustainability across the business.
Kye Gbangbola is director and founder of sustainability consultancy Total Eco Management
GRI 403: Organizational Health and Safety and GRI 303: Water and Effluents have been updated to set best practice for reporting on these issues. Both occupational health and safety and water stewardship remain a global priority for sustainable development. The updated GRI Standards reflect the urgency of the new ways of understanding and addressing issues such as harm to workers, or freshwater as an increasingly scarce resource.
The revision of GRI 403: Occupational Health and Safety 2016 has been completed. Please download the revised GRI 403: Occupational Health and Safety 2018 Standard here. GRI 403: Occupational Health and Safety 2018 will be effective for reports or other materials published on or after 1 January 2021. Earlier adoption is encouraged.
The revision of GRI 303: Water 2016 has been completed. Please download the revised GRI 303: Water and Effluents 2018 Standard here. GRI 303: Water and Effluents 2018 will be effective for reports or other materials published on or after 1 January 2021. Earlier adoption is encouraged.
Already in 2016, GRI encouraged the early adoption of the GRI Standards in reporting. And the final date for phasing out the guidelines has come due. The Standards will be required for all reports or other materials that reference the GRI framework and which are published on or after 1 July 2018. After the deadline, GRI is unable to provide further support for reports that continue to use the G4 guidelines.
The Global Child Forum and GRI join forces to strengthen corporate transparency and accountability on children’s rights issues.
On 11 April 2018, GRI and the Global Child Forum announced a new collaboration through a Letter of Intent at the Royal Palace in Stockholm, at the 10th Global Child Forum. This alignment will combine the best of the two organizations and drive corporate action to improve the lives of children.
The Global Child Forum is an independent multi-stakeholder platform for informed dialogue on how the UN Children’s Rights Convention and other key instruments can be fulfilled, respected and promoted by every actor in society. Global Child Forum is a knowledge and high-level engagement hub, and uses a transparency and accountability approach, with a key role for sustainability reporting within its research and tools. These include the knowledge center, benchmark research and reports, and the Children's Rights and Business Atlas, an online corporate due diligence tool developed in partnership with UNICEF.
GRI provides the global standards for sustainability reporting, which includes the important dimension of children’s rights. GRI’s reporting framework is the world’s most widely used: thousands of companies – large and small – in more than one hundred countries use GRI’s standards to disclose their impacts on the environment and society.
Says Teresa Fogelberg, GRI Deputy Chief Executive: “There is a need to align guidance for sustainability performance, practice and reporting around the world. This alignment means a major push for businesses across the world to not only be aware of their impact on the lives of children, but to measure, manage and improve their contribution in a globally comparable and standardized manner. Our cooperation drives transparency, which is a great force of change and ultimately a transformation in how the world treats children.”
Ulrika Nilsson, Managing Director of the Global Child Forum adds: “Advancing children’s rights in the corporate sector is our major focus. Delivering quality research, robust tools and case studies to support businesses which, in turn, help children to develop and thrive, is at our core. We are very proud to launch this strategic cooperation with Global Reporting Initiative which will help us to further deliver on these objectives through joint research projects and global engagements with stakeholders.”
In addition to the ongoing practical cooperation, the partnership highlights the joint passion and vision of a thriving global community that respects and advances children’s rights. In this vision, a special focus is cast on improving the rights and lives of children by catalyzing business actions and transparency.
GRI has just unveiled plans to expand its scope to catalyze the next era of #sustyreporting! These plans include a focus on four strategic priorities as well as a new brand to support this strategy. GRI already provides the world’s most trusted and widely used #sustainability reporting standards, used by thousands of organizations in over 90 countries. Building on this legacy, GRI will expand its focus over the next five years to empower #decisionmaking towards a more sustainable economy and world http://bit.ly/1MiblBR
The G4 Exam was launched in February 2015 and allows sustainability professionals to demonstrate their knowledge of the G4 Guidelines and the GRI Reporting Process, enhancing their credibility and reputation in the sustainability field. The GRI G4 Exam tests candidates on their knowledge of the content of the G4 Guidelines, as well as the five phases of the GRI Reporting process.
The Exam is implemented in collaboration with Prometric, and candidates can take the Exam in over 500 test centers located in 82 countries.
Since the launch of the G4 Exam in February 2015, 123 participants from 36 different countries worldwide have taken the G4 Exam. 89% of the candidates have passed the exam with an average score of 85% of correct answers, where the minimum score to pass is 75%. We are delighted to see that our UK training have produced the highest number of successful candidates.
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The concept of developing meaningful, effective and engaging sustainability reports has started to weigh anchor in the business sphere, evolving from a swept-aside entrée to the meaty bulk of fundamental corporate social responsibility.
For Kye Gbangbola, founder of Total Eco Management – an award-winning sustainability training service – companies venturing into the realm of sustainability reporting are driven by three overlapping motives: legislation demanding it, visionary leaders implementing it, or a near miss with climate or CSR-related disaster.
Kye specialises in supporting and advising the private and other sectors with their sustainability and reporting responsibilities. He is the author of ‘How to Produce a Sustainability Report', published by DoShort.
Kye has watched as the private sector landscape has shifted sustainability reporting and CSR from a ‘would like to do’ to a ‘must do’. But arriving at the foot of what can be a mountainous task can be daunting for starters.
With that in mind, here are Kye Gbangbola’s 10 top tips for writing a succesful sustainability report.
1) Know your angle before you get started
Kye is a firm believer that companies lend themselves to sustainability reports for a variety of reasons. While these reasons can overlap, once you've gained an understanding of why you need to publish this report, you can begin to tailor your company's actions for the desired effect.
"In the past, when you looked at a business, 80% of its dealings were to do with finances and those were the ways that investors acted around each other," Kye says. "But with increased legislation and then need to tailor companies so they can exist in the future, investors expect people to a have a greater knowledge of wider values.
"No matter what angle you approach this at, sustainability reporting is a must do, otherwise you no longer have a credible proposition for your products and services."
If a company is recovering from a climate-related mishap, for example, then a sustainability report could be the perfect catalyst for a phoenix-from-the-ashes redemption. Tailoring to the report to certain legislation also gives the company credibility in the stocks, while adopting reporting as a mantra gives your company a new moral compass.
2) Understand your company's (and stakeholder's) needs
Kye notes that those creating a report simply because legislation demands it can often get caught in the crosshair of why they are even writing it in the first place. And this can create confusion about th development, structure and key themes of the report.
Having an understanding of where a company fits in with society and the environment makes it a lot easier to see the bottom-line benefits, Kye says.
“Some organisations understand that there is no conflict between profit and responding better to society,” Kye says.
“In some industries the fact they respond better to society means they increase their profit margin and their spending goes down while response to products go up.”
In a morally-conscious world more people – especially millennials – want companies to reflect their beliefs, with sustainability at the heart of these beliefs.
3) Get ahead of the game
We’re all familiar with downfall of the hare and the fable that ‘slow and steady wins the race’, but when it comes to sustainability reporting, Kye believes that getting started early can have huge benefits for companies.
“If a company can show that they are taking sustainability into account – especially when others in their sector aren’t showing that much interest – it can paint you in a pretty positive light,” Kye says. “It gives you a chance to become an industry leader and gives you trust, high credibility and good leadership qualities among innovative forward thinkers.”
While companies obviously need to have the ground work ready, getting ahead of the sector and standing out from the crowd will draw stakeholders and consumers to you.
4) Navigate the reporting landscape
Sustainability reports come fitted with guidelines that need to be followed in order to cover the necessities. Kye is a certified 'GRI G4' trainer - one of the most popular framework guidelines. Over the years, he has seen too many companies get trapped in the guidelines webs, "trying to tell the story they think others want to hear, rather than the story they have".
“Reporting is an absolutely living opportunity to enhance its strategic objects, but too many let the guidelines dictate what they end up reporting. The guidelines should complement the story but never drive it.”
By viewing your report as a journey rather than an actual report, Kye feels that it becomes much easier to create a structure that highlights what the company has done and is doing, and streamlines the reporting process.
5) Be honest
As mentioned earlier, companies can be driven to sustainability reporting as a result of a disaster or mistake. While some will want to brush these incidents under the rug, Kye believes that displaying what has happened in an honest fashion actually increases the credibility of the report.
“Some companies may not be hitting the targets they should be hitting. Report writing is about balance, it’s an essential principle. It’s about saying the good and the bad, because it gives the report credibility.
“You can paint a message in many ways but what you do want to do is paint it in an honest fashion. To a person the reports that they trust are ones from organisations that are telling the good along with the bad. It’s important to never run away from the situations that you find yourself in.”
Missed targets or bad press will end up in the public one way or another, but a sustainability report gives companies the chance to turn disappointment into opportunities.
6) Set realistic goals
You wouldn’t run a marathon before you can walk, or try bay parking before you’ve mastered the clutch. So companies going into these reports shouldn’t do so believing they alone can rid the world of climate change.
“We encourage organisations to set smart, realistic and achievable targets otherwise they can come back to haunt you," says Kye. "This is a public document and if you continue to fail on your targets then it won’t look good. You’ll just end up driving your company into a wall.”
The targets in reports need the right blend of ambition and achievability. Not only does his drive companies towards sustainable goals, it also creates extra emotional drivers that can add strength to a report.
7) Fail to prepare, prepare to fail
While getting ahead of chasing pack can be key in business, doing so without a complete understanding of where you’re actually heading can turn a sustainability report into a time-consuming vacuum.
Kye says: “Understand what the journey will entail so that you don’t end up being in a situation where you’ve over packed. Just bring what you need for this journey otherwise it will bring you to your knees.
“If you prepare well it saves you a huge step of what’s called unintended consequences. The journey will be quicker and smoother; there are just too many pitfalls to fall down.”
As for all means in life, if you fail to prepare for this report, then you can prepare for the report to fail.
8) Get the board on-board
Kye notes that a lot of companies still view sustainability reports as publications that can be worked on in small teams in the background. While it may be possible for a few members of staff to produce a report, getting backing and interest from board members and stakeholders on key sustainability issues can make the entire reporting process much more streamlined.
“Engaging with internal stakeholders is the best way to prioritise what should be reported. Without them the report becomes a heavy burden and can place undue pressure on the reporting team,” Kye says.
“Having investment and interest from the top means that you don’t have to galvanise resources to create a better report because the board members will have a better idea on what the business reflects as a whole.”
It's no surprise that companies with visionary leaders such as Unilever constantly deliver in regards to reporting - all the strings are pulled by people who truly believe in what they are preaching.
9) Keep your initial expectations relatively low
Similar to having realistic targets in place, it is also important to have a realistic idea of what the end result of your sustainability report will be.
“You have to give reporting your respect; just like any discipline you get better with time," says Kye. "Just getting across the finish line is an achievement the first time round, and by the third year reporting will be embedded as part of a company’s DNA and will become a natural way of thinking.”
By understanding that the report will take time and may not reflect on where your company wants to be right now, those building the report won't become disillusioned with the process.
10) Don’t go in blind, and enjoy the journey!
Kye has built his carrier around helping others with their reports, so it’s only natural that seeking guidance would be a key piece of advice.
“Imagine going to a foreign place, its handy to have a guide,” he says. “There are people out there who know about the reporting sphere who can ask the questions that may not be necessarily clear to ask to enhance the report.
"If you can get the guidance and support it will save a lot of hassle and make the journey far more enjoyable.”
edie Sustainability Reporting Concerence 2015
The fifth annual edie Sustainability Reporting Conference takes place on 23 February 2016 at the Inmarsat Conference Centre in London.
At the event, Kye Gbangbola will lead a session dedicated to 'Sustainability reporting guidelines – learning from the best'.
Find out more about the conference and register to attend here.
Read the first part of this series here.
original article written by Matt Mace
Walk the talk, you are what you do, not what you say - watch this Indigenous Environmental Network at COP21