Social Polarisation: A New Risk to Integrate for Business | Report

GlobeScan Corporate Affairs Survey social polarisation, building social capital

Opinions and Insights from Corporate Professionals

5th December 2017 – The impacts of political, economic, and social instability are dominating the external environment in which companies operate. Among growing material risks, social polarisation is now emerging as a core area that companies need to prioritise, according to findings from GlobeScan’s new global survey of corporate affairs professionals.
Nearly seven in ten corporate professionals view social polarisation as a great risk to business. The potential risks of a polarised society are manifold, but three main areas emerge as being highly associated with polarisation: instability, greater economic inequality and slowdown, and eroding trust. The magnifying effect of social polarisation across other risk areas means it can no longer be considered as peripheral to business and should be proactively addressed as a fundamental component of overall risk management strategy.
There are some nascent signs that awareness of its disruptive potential for companies is increasing, and that corporate professionals are starting to consider what could be appropriate responses to address the social risk. In particular, they feel that a better baseline understanding of society’s expectations is the most relevant action for business to mitigate social polarisation (mentioned by 89%), followed by a more proactive engagement with society on corporate purpose (83%). However, while 84 per cent of respondents say their company has a stated corporate purpose in place, some challenges remain in order to optimise its value. Over four in ten (43%) highlight a lack of ownership of their purpose among employees generally, while the ability to quantify how purpose can support the bottom line or reputation capital is also a challenge (highlighted by 40% and 33%, respectively).
One step towards better capturing the trust-building role and value of purpose is by demonstrating its alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs platform can help to frame the demonstration of an effective social impact beyond the immediate corporate environment, and synergies should be sought after to make the link stronger between the SDGs and corporate purpose. Three in four corporate affairs practitioners (76%) say their company has taken steps to align its strategy with the SDGs, however less than half (46%) say their company is considering a campaign to communicate this in the next year.
Trepidation in public engagement with the Global Goals is likely stemming from two levels. First, similarly to purpose, a greater socialisation of the SDGs is still required internally as awareness of the Global Goals within organisations appears low, and involvement in advancing an SDG strategy outside of corporate affairs and sustainability is very fragmented.
Secondly, there is a gap between companies’ willingness to act on the SDGs and their ability to measure their contribution. Businesses want their SDG efforts to have an impact, but access to a methodology to assess their actual performance in delivering against the Global Goals is lacking and poses a challenge for nearly six in ten practitioners. More than eight in ten respondents say their company makes an effort to evaluate its own SDG contributions, however only three in ten say these are measured rigorously.
Christophe Guibeleguiet, CEO of GlobeScan said: “In light of pressing societal issues, there is an increased urgency for business to articulate and demonstrate a credible and operationalised business response to the SDGs, and link it with the corporate purpose narrative. Companies able to do so will be better positioned to pre-empt the risk of social polarisation and factor it into their risk management. Their ability to effectively measure and report on their contribution, however, will be critical.”

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