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Union flags fly for social responsibility

Commentators have ignored a salutary fact to emerge from the Sunday Times Business in the Community study into corporate responsibility nearly the companies in the top 20 recognise trade unions.

We may expect firms such as the Co-op Bank, at number one, to have modern approaches to their staff, with the self confidence to recognise trade unions and work meaningfully with them to improve communications and co-operation.

But even Barclays has put the apartheid days behind it and came in at number three.

Credit to both firms for showing that modern business approaches improve efficiency and contribute to a firms effectiveness, and therefore brand value.

And kudos to all the far-sighted managers in the companies who understand the clear advantages of giving their staff a free voice at work.

The benefits are clear independent third-party recognition of good personnel practice, better staff motivation and the ability to harness the community to support business expansion.

Of course, trade union recognition will not guarantee workplace harmony in itself.

Prudential is facing industrial action from the finance wing of union giant Amicus for exporting 1,000 jobs from the UK to India. Many of the posts will go from Northern Ireland, one of the worst employment black spots in Europe. Prudential has a lamentable record for being backward-looking.

This news shows that a recognition agreement is worth little if it is not backed by deeds. No surprise then that the Pru was not mentioned in the survey.

We need good employee involvement at every level of business decisions. That is what real corporate social responsibility is all about. Now, who would have thought that the Co-op would line up with Barclays on the side of the angels opposite the Prudential? We live in interesting times.

Tim Arnold, Deputy director, Corporate Social Responsibility Foundation, Slough, Berkshire

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