A new class of businesses called benefit corporations are creating a space for job quality advocacy in the business community – a space which is much needed in light of their long-term opposition to workplace policies, according to the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) and the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC ). David Levine, the Co-Founder and CEO of ASBC, explained in an online informational meeting earlier this week that the two organizations hope to frame a business-oriented case for pro-worker reform in order to add business talking points and case studies to the dialogue.
The new corporate legal status, which exists in 18 states, allows companies to pursue interests in social and environmental justice while remaining for-profit. Its emergence represents a blurring of the lines between traditional for-profit and non-profit companies, with companies such as Patagonia, Honest Tea, and Ben & Jerry’s joining the ranks in their unified goal to consider the interests of society alongside those of their shareholders. In order to become a benefit corporation, interested companies must publish an annual report that assesses their social and environmental performance against a third party standard.
There are numerous third party standards from which to choose, some of which certify or audit specific progress made by benefit corporations to reach their goals, although such certification is not legally required. For instance, B Lab scores their certified companies (called Certified B Corps) based on their provision of living wages, workplace flexibility, paid leave, and health insurance among others. Green America also ranks their certified companies as Gold, Silver or Bronze based on their flexible scheduling, paid vacation, and paid sick days policies. Groups like this – that provide information to consumers about which businesses provide which kinds of benefits, while simultaneously allowing companies to comprehend their societal impact – are crucial to the fight for increased workplace benefits. Moreover, benefit corporations are natural allies of the job quality movement, as they openly support and implement policies that the business community has historically protested.
And their presence could make a difference. Today, Connecticut remains the only state with a paid sick leave policy, even after proposals for similar policies were proposed in eleven different states this past legislative session. Cities have had more success, as paid sick leave laws exist in New York City, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Washington D.C. But this year both Mayor Michael Nutter (D) and Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) vetoed paid sick leave bills in Philadelphia and New York City respectively (the latter was overridden on June 27). Each man cited business concerns about the policies.
Although not all benefit corporations choose to be certified by third parties with assessment standards like this, the development of businesses and organizations that actively support increased job quality is a hopeful sign for advocates. Perhaps voices from the business community could have made a difference this last legislative session. With support from CLASP and the ASBC, the community of companies that provides paid sick leave and other benefits will increase, adding to the narrative surrounding workplace reform and providing examples of success for legislative bodies.
Katherine Richard is an intern with Our Working Nation, a project of the Center for American Progress.