The Ethical Business Guide: Use Your Procurement Power to Benefit Society

BY SALLY REYNOLDS
CEO OF SOCIAL FIRMS UK

EVERY BUSINESS NEEDS TO PROCURE GOODS AND SERVICES. YOU CAN ACTIVELY USE YOUR CONSUMER POWER TO PURCHASE FROM SUPPLIERS THAT HAVE A POSITIVE IMPACT ON SOCIETY.

A small but growing breed of enterprises known as Social Firms provide employment and training for severely disadvantaged people, such as those with disabilities, the homeless, ex-offenders or people with mental health problems.

While utterly committed to community interests and re-investing all profits in the people they support, Social Firms are businesses with high standards of commercial practices and product quality.

Here are some tips on how to support the employment and empowerment of disadvantaged people:

FIND QUALITY SUPPLIERS

The Social Firm sector now consists of more than 150 enterprises in the UK. These include everything from catering firms to travel agencies, gardeners to market researchers, sign-makers to print houses and even aquarium rental for offices and exhibitions.

Visit www.trade.socialfirms.co.uk to find suitable suppliers for your business.

THE SOCIAL FIRM SECTOR NOW CONSISTS OF MORE THAN 150 ENTERPRISES IN THE UK

SPEAK TO HAPPY CUSTOMERS

Many high profile companies including IBM and Morgan Stanley already procure from Social Firms. These early adopters have found commercial advantages to working with these organisations, as well as seeing it as a practical application of corporate social responsibility (CSR).

For example, creator of Famous Grouse whiskey, The Edrington Group, has outsourced its packaging and assembly to Social Firm, Haven Products – an independent supplier award scheme judged Haven to be one of the company’s top five suppliers for product quality, delivery reliability, flexibility and innovation.

‘BUDDY’ A SOCIAL FIRM

As well as buying from Social Firms you can also set up a partnership with a Social Firm that complements your business.

This buddy scheme allows employees to use their skills and expertise to help a Social Firm succeed. It provides consultancy experience and extra job satisfaction for corporate staff within a mutually beneficial partnership.

START YOUR OWN SOCIAL FIRM

Social Firms UK has set the ultimate challenge for businesspeople – to devise a market opportunity for a Social Firm and get it off the ground. Social Firms UK will help with legal structure, governance and levering in finance.

JOIN THE CORPORATE MEMBERSHIP SCHEME

While still in the early stages the Social Firm business model has proved successful. If it is to pull more people into social inclusion and economic empowerment then major support is needed. Partnerships with mainstream businesses are essential.

You can get advice and support on how to work with these unique businesses by joining Social Firms UK’s Corporate Membership Scheme.

LOOK OUT FOR ‘STAR’ SOCIAL FIRMS

To help more people understand the sector, a quality standard has been created. In the same vein as the Fairtrade mark for ethically traded goods, this award highlights each shining example of the Social Firm sector as a “Star Social Firm”.

Every enterprise with this status has been through an independent evaluation to prove it is a first-rate business providing high quality products or services as well as excellent employment opportunities for severely disadvantaged people.

Social Firms UK is the charity dedicated to supporting Social Firms. The company has approximately 300 members and represents the interests of the sector through lobbying and dissemination activities. For more information visit www.socialfirms.co.uk

© BLUE ROCKET AND THE GOOD FOLK 2009