British companies should ditch political activism, says Kemi Badenoch

Up to 50 per cent of people thought businesses were too concerned with political activism, a survey found

Alexander Butler
Sunday 19 May 2024 01:03 BST
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Costa Coffee defends mural of post-op trans man after boycott threat

British companies should ditch political activism and focus on delivering goods and services for customers, the UK’s business secretary has said.

Kemi Badenoch, who also works as Britain’s equalities minister, said there was a “creeping politicisation” of businesses and claimed equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) initiatives did more to divide than unify people.

It comes as 50 per cent of people thought businesses were too concerned with “taking political positions” on contested issues, according to a survey by centre-right think-tank Policy Exchange.

Up to 75 per cent also believed firms should hire on merit, regardless of race or gender, instead of seeking to create a diverse workforce.

“Policy Exchange’s findings confirm what I know to be true from talking to people who run businesses, work in them, and buy from them,” said Ms Badenoch.

Kemi Badenoch said British companies should ditch political activism and focus on delivering goods and services
Kemi Badenoch said British companies should ditch political activism and focus on delivering goods and services (PA)

“The public want the focus of business to be on delivering great products and services, not activism or political causes – which repel as many people as they attract.

“Overwhelmingly, people want companies to recruit on merit, selecting the best person for the job without regard to race or gender, rather than social engineering to create ‘diverse teams’,” Ms Badenoch said.

The report highlighted NatWest’s debanking row, ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s criticism of the UK’s asylum policy, and coffee chain Costa’s mural showing a transgender person with mastectomy scars drinking a coffee as examples of “politicisation” of businesses.

Policy Exchange senior research fellow Lara Brown added: “Customers do not believe that businesses need to demonstrate commitment to progressive principles and do not make spending decisions based on the political statements of retailers.

“Employees are also negatively affected by the politicisation of business, with many sceptical about workplace schemes tailored towards equality, diversity and inclusion.”

The report cited Costa Coffee’s depiction of a transgender person drinking coffee as ‘politicisation’ of business
The report cited Costa Coffee’s depiction of a transgender person drinking coffee as ‘politicisation’ of business (X/@JamesEsses)

The UK employs almost twice as many diversity and inclusion workers as any other country, with the job title “head of diversity” doubling globally between 2015 and 2020, according to LinkedIn data.

The number with a “director of diversity” title grew 75 per cent, and “chief diversity officer” by 68 per cent across the world, the same data showed.

Meanwhile, Britain is set to co-host two days of talks on AI safety, innovation and inclusivity in Seoul, South Korea, next week.

Prime minister Rishi Sunak will host a virtual session of world leaders and tech bosses, while technology secretary Michelle Donelan will fly out to meet South Korean counterpart H.E. Lee Jong Ho for an in-person meeting.

Companies due to participate include Anthropic, Microsoft, Mistral, Google DeepMind, OpenAI and Samsung. Other governments, academics and civil society groups are set to attend.

A Whitehall source said: “Britain continues to show global leadership on one of the defining technological and societal challenges of our age. Managed safely, AI will continue improving our quality of life and growing our economy.”

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