Buy a pencil, educate a child: British firms boost spending on businesses doing good

by Lee Mannion | @leemannion | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 18 April 2018 19:41 GMT

Clocks are seen in London's Financial centre at Canary Wharf In London, Britain, May 25, 2017. REUTERS/Russell Boyce

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Britain is seen as a global leader in the innovative social enterprise sector, with about 70,000 businesses that employ nearly 1 million people

By Lee Mannion

LONDON, April 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A campaign to boost British businesses with a social mission has attracted major names, from banking to pharmaceuticals, but is far from its goal of channelling 1 billion pounds ($1.4 billion) into the sector by 2020, its founders said on Wednesday.

Pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson, consulting firm PwC and Santander bank have signed up to the Buy Social Corporate Challenge, launched in 2016 by Social Enterprise UK (SEUK), which represents the growing sector.

About a dozen companies participating in the scheme have spent a total of 45 million pounds over the last two years with organisations that aim to address social and environmental issues as well as making a profit, SEUK said on Wednesday.

"We need to recruit many, many, more companies to make the dream of a 1 billion pound spend with the sector a reality," Peter Holbrook, SEUK's head told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Britain is seen as a global leader in the innovative social enterprise sector, with about 70,000 businesses that employ nearly 1 million people, according to SEUK.

One of the initiative's aims is to demonstrate that businesses in any sector can buy from social enterprises, going beyond traditional conceptions of corporate social responsibility to include them in core business spending.

The insurance company Liverpool Victoria Friendly Society Ltd (LV=) announced on Wednesday that it was joining SEUK's Buy Social Corporate Challenge.

As one of Britain's biggest insurers, it said it spends about 1 billion pounds a year across its supply chain.

"If we can look to spend just some of that with social enterprises who are trying to make a difference and help others, then we absolutely should," the company said in a statement.

LV= is already buying from Glasgow-based WildHearts Office, which supplies paper, pens and pencils and uses its profits to fund microfinance schemes in developing countries.

"Through those microloans, it is typically women that set up a business and the funds are used to educate their kids," said LV='s head of procurement Karl Poulsen.

"As a business, it's costing us no more to do this. In fact it's a bit cheaper than our previous incumbent. Why wouldn't we want to do that?"

SEUK's chairman, Victor Adebowale, said several other businesses had expressed interest in joining the campaign.

"What you've got to do is talk to the unconverted," he told participants at an event in parliament.

"If your story is good, why not tell it to someone that hasn't heard it yet? That's how we get to a billion."

($1 = 0.7029 pounds)

(Reporting by Lee Mannion @leemannion; editing by Claire Cozens and Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit

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