A new ICM poll published this week for the CORE coalition and Trade Justice Movement shows 90% of the public support tougher rules on companies to make them live up to their obligations on workers' rights and the environment.
Nine out of 10 also say that business should be legally obliged to report on its impact on local communities and workers around the world. Three-quarters of the 1,001 people polled agreed that "multinational companies are too interested in making profits for shareholders" and two-thirds said that company directors should be legally obliged to minimise negative impacts on the wider community.
Statistics like these should be a wake-up call for politicians of all stripes; after all, 90% of the electorate equals 40 million voters. Yet rather than trying to catch the public mood, all three major parties are falling over themselves in their attempts to reassure business that they disagree with popular sentiment. Instead of increasing corporate accountability, our politicians are vying with one another to cut "red tape".
What makes this a particular problem is that parliament is currently debating the biggest shake-up of company law this country has seen in 150 years. The company law reform bill offers MPs a once in a lifetime opportunity to heed public opinion and demand socially responsible practice from business. And yet that opportunity is in danger of being lost.
As it stands, the bill contains enough loopholes to let companies off the accountability hook. But amendments have been tabled which would give it real bite. One in particular would for the first time make company directors legally responsible for corporate misdeeds around the world.
Needless to say, the prospect of such an innovation has concentrated the minds of corporate lobbyists, who have argued hard against any such regulation of their activities overseas. Yet we elect our parliamentary representatives precisely to stand up to these private interest groups in favour of the greater public good.
The company law reform bill might not be the sexiest piece of legislation to go before parliament this year, but it offers MPs a unique chance to listen to the public and make business accountable for its actions. Vox populi may no longer be vox dei, but surely it counts for something?