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Adrian Wooldridge

Business Doesn’t Need a ‘Social Purpose’ Revolution

The U.K.’s Better Business Act and other similar laws will keep companies from doing their basic job — competing to produce the best services and products at the lowest prices.

The “purpose police” are coming.

The “purpose police” are coming.

Photographer: Hollie Adams/Bloomberg via Getty Images

There is no shortage of candidates for the title of the most dangerous business idea of the moment. Management-by-algorithm may remove what humanity there is left in the corporate world. The office-less future may dissolve workers into angst-ridden atoms. I want to suggest a less obvious contender for the title: “social purpose.”

The idea of social purpose can be heard wherever high-minded people gather to talk about business. In America, BlackRock Inc.’s CEO Larry Fink argues that companies should have a “social purpose beyond financial performance,” and that this purpose should involve a “positive contribution to society.” In France, the 2019 PACTE Act gives companies more freedom to pursue social as well as profit-maximizing purposes. Globally, almost every management consultancy or accountancy worthy of the name has a practice devoted to the promotion of the p-word.