• Mark Topley

Oppressive Regimes, Civil Disobedience & what they mean for CSR

What does a Roman Law from Biblical times have to do with Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)? I’d never drawn the link myself, until this week.

Over the past couple of months I’ve had a lot of new client meetings, which has been a lot of fun. One I particularly enjoyed was with the Executive Leadership Team of LiHT Trust – a Multi-Academy Trust in London.

LIHT currently has 8 schools, with around 1,000 staff. The leadership team are keen to flesh out the values of the organisation through CSR, and achieve impact across the organisation. Staff wellness and professional development, curriculum, community engagement, recruitment and their social operating licence are all on the list. It’s a great initiative, extremely forward thinking for the education sector, and I am very excited about the year long project ahead.

Afterwards, one of the team thanked me for the meeting in a tweet – and it was profound.

There is very little traffic on in the extra mile, and that’s where we want to travel. That's what CSR is all about.
“There is very little traffic on in the extra mile, and that’s where we want to travel.”

I don’t know where that’s come from (and Jenni may even have made it up), but it has come back to me so many times in the past week.

What happens in the extra mile?

Actually, loads of things that Corporate Social Responsibility is all about.

  1. We genuinely care for our team, deciding to do something unexpected to thank a team mate

  2. We embrace transformational leadership rather than transactional. Work is more than a pay check and our team are not machines that get work done

  3. We engage with our Community, rather than living on a self imposed ‘island’

  4. Honesty & integrity – we go beyond compliance and do the right thing rather than the expedient one

The real meaning…

You may recognise the phrase ‘going the extra mile’ as coming from the Bible. In Roman times, the Impressment Law meant that a Roman soldier could command anyone to carry their gear for a mile, but no further. It was a way of letting the natives know who was boss. But the penalty for a soldier found to be instructing someone to go beyond the mile was severe.

So when Jesus told people they should go the extra mile, it wasn’t an act of subservience, weakness, or being a nice guy, but one of civil resistance. Once soldiers realised that getting people to carry their gear might get them punished, it stopped.

What do you stand for?

For me, in addition to the evidence based business benefits of CSR, it’s is not about fluffiness or weakness, but a rejection of the system that says profit is the only (or even the best) aim. We’ve seen all too often where that leads with the high profile disasters like Enron, BP’s Deepwater Horizon, and Philip Green’s raiding of BHS’s pension fund.

By embracing a structured approach to CSR, we show that we reject that philosophy. We want to be great places to work. To be businesses that our customers, clients, patients and stakeholders respect. Operating with honesty and transparency, and making a positive difference to our communities.

Right now, there isn’t much traffic on the extra mile, but that’s exactly where I want to travel. How about you?

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