Australians expect a broad contribution from businesses going beyond fiscal responsibility according to a new national poll.
The Committee for Economic Development of Australia's (CEDA) latest report details how the general public expect businesses to perform ethically with respect to societal issues and the environment.
More than 70 per cent of the general public agreed that large companies should place equal importance on economic, environmental and social performance, and more than three-quarters of survey respondents supported business leaders speaking out on issues of national importance (including social and environmental issues).
CEDA chief executive Melinda Cilento says the poll, with more than 3000 respondents, puts to rest the debate about whether business leaders should voice their opinions on matters indirectly related to their business.
"While there has been much debate on the appropriateness of corporate leaders speaking on issues outside their core business, it is clear from these results the community consider this to be acceptable," says Cilento.
"This acceptance of a business voice on social and environmental issues was consistent across gender, age groups and locations from rural and regional Australia to our cities."
Despite the general public calling for business leaders to be more open about matters relating to society and the environment less than 50 per cent of respondents thought that business leaders were speaking out in the national interest.
"Where business and national interest aligns this is not a problem, but this result highlights that there is probably more work to be done by business leaders to better explain their reasons for speaking out and demonstrate the link to the wider national interest if they want broader community support for their advocacy," says Cilento.
The CEDA report also detailed how the general public does not currently have faith in large companies to act ethically.
Less than half of the community respondents believed the ethical behaviour of large companies has improved even though 85 per cent of business leaders thought that companies are now more ethical than they used to be.
More than 80 per cent of business leaders said that they thought it was harder for companies to get away with unethical behaviour.
"The community and business leaders agree that the public now has higher ethical standards for large companies, but there was less consensus on whether companies are behaving more ethically," says Cilento.
"Interestingly where the general public and business leaders align is shared scepticism around the consequences of unethical conduct."
In addition to showing differences in priorities between the community and business leaders, the report also highlighted intergenerational differences.
Millennials believe top priorities for business should be the environment, ethical supply chains and work/life balance for employees. While baby boomers believe top priorities for business should be quality products, pay small businesses promptly and also work/life balance for employees.
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