Business must be part of the post-BRexit solution
The world looks fundamentally different this week, as we digest the implications of last Thursday’s historic EU Referendum Leave vote.
As commentators chew over the implications of the outcome, the truth is – no one quite knows what comes next, and we all face a significant period of uncertainty in the coming months as we adjust to the reality of life outside of the EU.
It is no secret that many in the business community publically backed the Remain campaign. However, now that the decision to leave has been made, it is more important than ever that business demonstrates its strength and ability to take action that drives our economy forward, even as we adjust to the challenges and change to come.
Divisions and discontent within our society have been brought into sharp focus by a result that is making people mistrustful of each other. Immigrants who have lived here for many years are reporting an uneasiness about their day-to-day dealings with local people following the result, and this is in spite of the fact that here in Northern Ireland, the majority voted to Remain.
Many businesses are facing a raft of unanswerable questions about their future operations, where they deal with European suppliers or export their goods within the EU. Within the voluntary sector too, sustainability is at the forefront of many minds, as organisations consider the need to reshape funding models that rely on EU monies for project delivery.
Here in Northern Ireland, where we share a land border with the Republic (still firmly IN the EU), concerns have been raised over what that might mean for free movement between North and South and potentially for the peace process, which could be destabilised by renewed calls for a United Ireland.
As an organisation that exists to encourage businesses to contribute positively to society and to work in partnership for the common good, Business in the Community has a vital role to play in the time ahead. We work with organisations of all sizes committed to having a positive impact on their people, the planet and the places where they operate. In the wake of our exit from the EU, business has a real opportunity to demonstrate that it can continue to work collaboratively to tackle shared global challenges.
We urge businesses to keep their commitments to be responsible, not because EU legislation compels them to, but because responsible business behaviour is the only way to ensure a fairer society and a more sustainable future. Here in Northern Ireland, and more widely in the UK, we now have a real opportunity to innovate and to show bold leadership on issues of sustainability. At the same time, government has a responsibility to create the legislative and policy environment that enables us to have a prosperous, growing economy and to be renowned as a world leader in responsible business practice.
It is also important that we take the necessary time to reflect on the pressing and urgent challenges facing the UK, which the referendum debate unearthed – questions around employment, social inclusion and inequality, to name a few. Throughout the campaign, there was a prevailing sense of the divide between the interests of big business and the interests of the society it serves, as well as a lack of trust in business and government institutions.
At our 2016 Responsible Business Summit in October, the potential effects of BRexit will undoubtedly shape much of the discussion. We’re exploring ‘Tomorrow’s World’ and how we create a sustainable future for business and society, and last week’s result will impact on every aspect of our future in the short, medium and potentially longer-term. So, there’s never been a more crucial time for business to demonstrate that it is part of the solution to create a better world, and to show that the interest of business and the prosperity of society are genuinely interdependent.
With the referendum behind us, Business in the Community will do more to encourage business to take action to create cohesion in our communities, to heal the divides and to build trust and understanding. There is also a real urgency now to raise the profile of what business does do, to better communicate that business can be a force for good and can create the long-term partnerships that can help address some of the concerns that have been at the centre of much of the debate.