The Free Speech Union has just published a briefing called Woke, Ltd. by Thomas Harris, the FSU’s Director of Data and Impact. It’s about the B Corps movement, which the FSU thinks is having a chilling effect on free speech in the workplace. You can read about the report in today’s Times.
The movement originated with B Lab Global, an American non-profit that was set up in 2006. It now has branches called B Labs all over the world, including the UK. Indeed, the number of B Corps in the U.K. is growing exponentially, with more in 2022 than the rest of Europe combined. To date, more than 1,900 companies operating in Britain have become B Corps.
To become a B Corp-certified company – a kite mark provided by your local B Lab, a bit like becoming a Stonewall Diversity Champion – the directors must go beyond maximising profits and commit to serving ‘people’ and the ‘planet’. In the words of B Lab Global, a B Corp is a “designation that a business is meeting high standards of verified performance, accountability and transparency on factors from employee benefits and charitable giving to supply-chain practices and input materials”.
That sounds benign and well-meaning, but certification involves a company changing its Articles of Association to include a commitment to meeting social and environmental targets, both internally and externally. For instance, the B Corps framework assesses a company against B Lab’s principles of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion – or JEDI, for short. Among other things, that means making a commitment to ‘racial justice’ and Net Zero and that, in turn, can lead to employees or customers who don’t share those values being purged – a good example being Nigel Farage’s defenestration by Coutts, a B Corp-certified company.
The FSU is concerned that the B Corps phenomenon is accelerating the adoption by British companies of contentious political ideas that originated in ‘grievance studies’ departments in American universities (gender studies, queer studies, whiteness studies), e.g. critical race theory (including the idea that all white people are privileged and it’s not enough for them to be non-racist, they must be ‘anti-racist’) and gender identity ideology. This ideology is often enforced with authoritarian zeal.
What is particularly worrying is that B Lab U.K., the British arm of this movement, is lobbying for a new Act of Parliament that would mean British businesses have to comply with this ideology and impose it on their employees and customers – even their suppliers. If U.K. law is changed whereby all British companies have to incorporate B Corps principles into their operations, the Equality Act 2010 might have to be amended to dilute workplace protections for employees’ speech rights, so that certain beliefs – such as a belief in the reality of biological sex – would lose their ‘protected’ status.