The unacceptable face of capitalism

Sir Philip Green
Sir Philip Green
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It was a Conservative Prime Minister who first coined the phrase “the unpleasant and unacceptable face of capitalism” to describe the activities of ‘Tiny’ Rowland, a South African tycoon who attempted to conceal financial information from his own Board of Directors. Today the phrase could be equally well applied to Sir Philip Green, whose treatment of former staff at BHS was the subject of a recent House of Commons enquiry.

Members of Parliament – of all parties – on the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee concluded that the department store, a longstanding bastion of British high streets, had been subject to ‘systematic plunder’ by Green and its other former owners, who gave ‘insufficient priority’ to the pension scheme now facing a huge deficit.

It is the duty of government to protect the public from unscrupulous activities that threaten the foundations of our economic system. As corporate power should be accompanied by responsibility, businessmen whose selfish decisions change countless lives must be held to account for the wrong they do.

But Government should go further, supporting and promoting activities that build an ethical capitalism that is the antithesis of the likes of Green, and Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley, with their ‘get rich quick’ attitude to business. That’s why the Prime Minister is committed to putting corporate responsibility at the heart of her agenda. The Government is now actively looking at ways to legislate to curtail unacceptable business behaviour.

Ethical capitalism also means building an economy that works for everyone. My friend and colleague the Business Secretary Greg Clark is working to develop a robust industrial strategy aimed at facilitating industries that will support a high skill, high wage economy. Ethical capitalism means building business for the long-term – so investing in a prosperous future for British workers.