Tuesday, 7 January, 2020

The last four decades have seen a huge growth in economic inequality in the United Kingdom. In 2019 The Equality Trust found Chief Executive Officers of FTSE 100 companies took home an average salary of over £5 million per year – 200 times as much as the average national salary, that women in these companies earned on average 19% less than men, and that the richest 1,000 people in the UK had increased their wealth by almost £50 billion in the last year alone. By this point, the total wealth of these richest 1,000 people - £771.3 billion – had far outstripped the total wealth of the poorest 40% of UK households which had a combined wealth of £567 billion.

It is figures like these, and the detrimental impacts such gross levels of inequality have on us individually, on our society and on our environment, that have necessitated The Equality Trust’s launch of its Fair Pay Campaign. The Trust’s campaign wants to see concerted efforts by politicians, regulators, shareholders, trade unions and consumers to dramatically reduce the gender pay gap and to bring about a more equitable distribution of pay in organisations.

Employers clearly play a central role in bringing about such change. Those already trying to deliver fairer pay in their organisations are doing so through a range of approaches. There are now more than 6,000 Accredited Living Wage Employers in the UK who voluntarily pay their staff a higher minimum wage based on the cost of living rather than that prescribed by the statutory National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage. Employers can measure their gender pay gap and develop an action plan to reduce this – now a legal requirement for large UK companies. And ahead of new legislation that requires large UK companies to publish and explain the gap between the pay of their Chief Executive Officer and that of their average employee, some employers have already placed limits on how large this pay gap can be.

For Quakers, and those aligned with Quaker thinking, these values of fairness, equality, transparency and sustainability are at the heart of everyday living. Indeed, many of the great philanthropic businesses of the industrial revolution had Quaker roots – Cadbury, Rowntree and Scott Bader, for example. It is these principles then that the Quakers and Business Group seeks to promote in business and the workplace today. Our charitable organisation provides a meeting place for likeminded people and organisations. And we help our members and those in the wider community to do this by providing advice, guidance and support.

Released in 2019, now in its third edition and translated into a number of languages, our free-to-download Good Business – Ethics at Work book acts as a guide and inspiration to running a better and ethical business for the benefit of all stakeholders. It provides a range of Advice and Queries that help us think about how businesses are run, how this might be improved and how these improvements might benefit our organisations, their employees, customers, wider society and the natural world in which we live.

Our Advice and Queries offer a way of thinking about fair pay and how this might be achieved. We highlight different types of equality – gender, racial and economic, for example – and ask how these might affect organisational behaviour, such as pay setting. We ask whether the pay of directors and top-level staff is reasonable, does it accurately reflect the contribution they make, and does it come at the cost of lower pay for other workers in the organisation? In this vein, we ask whether the pay of employees is enough for them all to achieve a decent standard of living and to ensure no one is being exploited. And we query whether a business has a maximum ratio of the highest paid to average or lowest paid and whether the same principles of awarding pay and benefits are used throughout the organisation and for all workers.

Our free-to-download Good Business – Ethics at Workbook provides then an easily accessible way of questioning how we do business and how we might realise fair pay. Together with our Quakers and Business community, we see it as a tool that businesses, consumers, activists and other stakeholders can use to bring about the reduction in harmful pay inequality sought by The Equality Trust’s Fair Pay Campaign and its supporters. Indeed, we consider it a vital part of our collective journey to make this world a fairer, more equal and more sustainable place in which we can all thrive.

By Stuart Hill, a Trustee and Membership Secretary of Quakers and Business Group.

membership@qandb.org | @QuakerBusiness

This article represents the personal views of Stuart Hill and not necessarily those of The Equality Trust.