Honesty Pays - Raising Standards Delivers Rewards

by Jonathan Wootliff

According to the Czech Ministry of Trade, “Czech companies have a reputation of reliable partners and suppliers of high quality products, technologies and services.”  That’s good news if it was really true.  But the harsh fact is that this country ranks at only 57 in Transparency International’s latest corruption index.  And according to this leading non-governmental organization which monitors business and political honesty, the situation is getting worse in this country.

Of course, there are many fine Czech companies who behaviour is exemplary.  An increasing number of businesses are adopting impressive corporate responsibility practices, demonstrating true respect for the society and environment in which they operate.  However, it clear that there remains much room for improvement.

Good citizens follow the law. The concept is simple: stick to a set of rules and stay out of trouble. But decent citizens also realize that the law alone does not dictate our every move. Other powerful forces – family, friends, colleagues, peers, moral values – play a role in determining how we interact with the world and people around us.

The same concept should hold true for corporations. Most follow strict financial guidelines and corporate governance standards. More and more companies monitor how their operations and employees impact the environment, local communities and the planet at large. But a small but growing number go a step further and listen to the voices beyond regulators and litigators.

If every company in the Czech Republic respected the environment and corporate governance and social imperatives, groups like Greenpeace, Transparency International and Human Rights Watch wouldn’t have anything to do. Perhaps it should become the goal of businesses in the country to make these watchdogs redundant.

It is those companies that hold themselves to a higher standard, and go beyond compliance that enjoy the most highly regarded reputations. It is companies that go the extra mile that reap the rewards in the court of public opinion. And it is companies that voluntarily raise the bar that often unearth a myriad of commercially interesting business opportunities.

These are the companies that take a step back to consider what is right from wrong, how their actions impact the environment and society, and where they are most vulnerable to attack from the eagle eyes of Civil Society – the myriad of advocacy groups and concerned individuals who rally around shared social interests.

Successful businesses have found a strong case for doing good and exceed baseline standards for a range of smart business reasons:

Meeting the expectations of many different stakeholders. Smart companies go beyond meeting environmental requirements and meaningfully engage with other critical stakeholders, including consumers, customers, employees, shareholders and activist groups. They have discovered that taking time to listen to concerns ensures the company receives well-rounded feedback and makes noticeable impact where it matters most.

By holding consistent moral and social positions in, successful companies are viewed by key stakeholders as true to their word and principles, and thereby less vulnerable to attack or criticism. B

Staying ahead of the curve. Environmental and corporate laws and regulations are constantly evolving, and it’s up to individual businesses to decide if they will follow the leaders, play “catch up” with competitors or take the initiative and lead by example. Companies that are well prepared to adapt to changing laws become “best practice” models in their respective industries and for the business world as a whole. In some instances, new laws and regulations are modelled after the practices of these trail-blazers.

Expectations and demands from society often well exceed those of law and policy makers. It’s the everyday citizen who has the most influence on business decisions – whether it’s the next “green” product to market or current environmental challenge.

Ignoring voices of concern can cause irreparable reputational damage. Companies must stay in touch with real-world critics if they are to truly succeed.

Understanding what society demands and not just what the law requires is a unique (but learnable) skill. It starts by being in tune with the wide range of environmental and other concerns of the world at large, and being in position to address them.

Companies are increasingly waking up to the fact that good corporate stewardship means good business.

Smart businesses experience the positive effects of leading with a moral compass and not just by following the letter of the law. They understand that they are not just held accountable by rules and regulations, but by the broader expectations of the consumers, families and communities they serve.

Above all, these companies know that a broader definition of accountability represents the only sustainable way of operating in today’s business world. Progressive companies in the Czech Republic realize that the 21st Century version of corporate accountability is here to stay and those who choose not to follow it will be left behind.

Before the Revolution, dishonesty was rife and most people would agree that the system inadvertently encouraged everyone to break the rules.  A quarter of century on, it is time for the entire Czech business community to understand the true benefits of responsible capitalism.  Enhancing this country’s reputation as a good place to do business should be a top priority.  Embracing this philosophy surely delivery a sustainable future to this great nation.

In summary – honesty is good for business.

About the author: A former director of Greenpeace International, Jonathan Wootliff lives in Prague and works throughout the world as a sustainability consultant to business.  He is Chair of the Board of Experts of the Czech Business Council for Sustainable Development.  He has consulted many large corporations including BP, Colgate-Palmolive, McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble and Whirlpool, and providing counsel to companies on the development of sustainability strategies that benefit the environment, society and business.  Among his many activities, he helps companies to resolve disputes, forge productive relationships with non-governmental organizations, and build long-term sustainability strategies.  A qualified journalist with a subsequent background in public relations, Jonathan commonly assists companies with their sustainability communications.  He can be contacted at

Source: Prague Leaders Magazine  (in cooperation with

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