The police have long been preparing for this week’s May Day demonstration in London. And while criminality should not be tolerated, what has now become an annual event has focused attention on responsible capitalism and the proper conduct of businesses.
The global demonstrations are not the only sign that the wind is changing in terms of public attitudes to corporate actions.
Last week’s protests at BP’s agm in London against the company’s links with the Chinese state oil company came just as, in the southern hemisphere, pharmaceutical companies elected to drop legal action against a South African law allowing cheaper replicas of their patented drugs.
And don’t forget it was only a few weeks ago that environment minister Michael Meacher named and shamed the companies that are not engaging in regular environmental reporting.
None of these moves should be viewed in isolation. Nor should they be ignored.
Companies may be accountable to their shareholders, but their responsibilities stretch way beyond this group. Transparency goes a long way towards appeasing legitimate protesters, but explanation can take time and require compromise.
Companies will never be able to satisfy all of the people all of the time. While they may never be able to placate protesters who operate at the fringes of the law, a policy of transparency will help companies to isolate them even further.
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