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To B or not to B?

The B Corp is coming, possibly to a company near you.  With all the glamour of a Hollywood star, B Corp will launch in the UK in September 2015.  The structure has tasted success stateside and now boasts a roll call of more than 1000 certified B Corps across 33 different countries.  B Lab UK, the charity coordinating B Corp expansion in the UK, aims to welcome 50 UK companies to the B Corp entourage in time for September’s launch.

The question is, what does B Corp have to offer that we don’t already have?  The B Corp certification denotes a business whose prime motivation is to solve a social or environmental issue through its enterprise, which sounds a lot like our much-debated definition of social enterprise in the UK.  Isn’t it just a slightly more corporate version of the humble CIC, with some ratings-friendly star-quality thrown in for good measure?  According to the B Corp website ‘B Corp is to business what Fair Trade certification is to coffee’.  So it’s a corporate version of fair trade? 

Many would argue that a more commercial version of a CIC can only be a good thing.  The CIC structure is often criticised for having many of the restrictions of a charity and few of the advantages, so the B Corp may be just the thing to encourage the more commercial end of UK social enterprise.  With star-leads from companies such as Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s it is clear that B Corp certification is no restriction on growth and yet helps to maintain a company’s social mission, even post-sale as the latter case shows.  There is also an obvious  benefit to having an internationally recognised structure for those companies operating in more than one jurisdiction.

Would-be B Corps will have to undergo a rigorous certification process which includes implementing a constitution that prioritises a triple bottom line and requires directors to consider all stakeholders in their decision-making, not just shareholders.  Once they have waded through the forms however, and if they score sufficiently high on the B Corp point system, the B Corp red carpet awaits.  Companies such as Unilever have shown that you do not necessarily need a special certificate to build a reputation for sustainability but for others working towards a social goal, certification may be a welcome recognition of this work and a welcome mandate for directors keen to take an holistic approach to their decision making.  We look forward to September and seeing whether box-office success awaits.