“Without trust in corporations, economic systems will fail, financial systems will collapse, the environment will continue to degrade, and civilizations will clash,” added Colin who will be speaking to Wadham's regular donors at the Circles' Debate on 15 February.
“Corporations have grown to a size where in some cases they are bigger than countries. As governments increasingly find themselves unable to shoulder their debt burdens, they turn to corporations to provide the goods and services that they supplied in the past,” he goes on to say.
Colin questions whether corporations are capable of bearing the responsibilities that are being placed on them. He finds that the evidence is not encouraging because of a breakdown of trust in business.
“Corporations are both the cause of and solution to the clash of civilizations and a breakdown of trust. Take China as an example. The remarkable growth of the Chinese economy is on the back of first its state-owned and more recently its private enterprises. But at the same time, Chinese firms have been the source of terrible environmental pollution.”
In the West, the corporation is associated with egregious levels of inequality between those at the top and the bottom of the organization, in a failure to pay its fair share of taxes, and in continuing to employ slave labour and child trafficking in its supply chains, adds Colin.
“It is remarkable how one institution can explain so much of the collapse and growth of nations, poverty and its alleviation, of the destruction of societies and the creation of social networks, of environmental degradation and the solution to environmental problems.”
Colin sees immense potential for companies to adopt technological advances that will radically transform our lives around the world for the better. For this to happen and to avoid the detriments that commercial exploitation of technological changes has often caused in the past, corporations need to demonstrate their trustworthiness and thereby “restore our trust in them to uphold our interests”.
Colin is working with the British Academy to draw on academic expertise in the humanities to address questions of purpose of corporations, their roles and responsibilities, and trust and trustworthy institutions; law, politics and sociology in considering laws, regulation and social norms; and management studies and economics in evaluating business, institutional and economic performance.
Colin’s forthcoming book, Prosperity: Better Business Makes the Greater Good will be published by Oxford University Press in November 2018.
Join this debate
Professor Colin Mayer, will be discussing these issues with Warren East CBE (Engineering, 1980), CEO of Rolls-Royce; James Gibson (Chemistry, 1979), Chief Executive and co-founder of Big Yellow Group PLC; Susan Bright (Law, Somerville 1984), Regional Managing Partner, Hogan Lovells LLP; Warden, Ken Macdonald QC and Wadham alumni donors at Wadham’s Circles’ Debate in London on 15 February.
As a gesture of our sincere gratitude for the generosity of our Circles members, this event is open to all Wadham alumni who are regular donors to the College and members of our three recognition circles: The Wilkins Circle (all those who give regularly, monthly or annually); the Nicholas Circle (those who give at least £1,000 per year); and the Dorothy Circle (those who give £5,000+ a year).