The change you can make

In today’s hyperconnected world, decisions made by companies and their workers can have major effects on communities at home and around the globe.

Below are some of the biggest issues that are common to many companies today, with resources that can help you understand how your company is performing. On the bar to the left you can find information based on specific sectors.

Climate Change

Climate change is one of the biggest threats our planet has faced, and virtually all companies contribute to it in some way, primarily through their own emissions but also through the services they offer, for example by providing finance to fossil fuel projects or developing misleading publicity campaigns. Even where companies are waking up to the need to reduce their emissions, many “net zero” commitments being made leave out important sources of their emissions, or are not backed up by sufficient urgency or a credible plan.

All companies should aim to become carbon neutral; this can limit the effects of global warming while driving down the costs of renewables for everyone, saving companies money over time. That said, 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions since 1988. Is your company one of them? Perhaps one of their suppliers? Maybe you can help find a solution.

For a basic introduction to climate change and answers to some FAQs, TED has put together a list of resources and some of their famous talks which can provide you with information and inspiration. Project Drawdown has put together a comprehensive guide for what all climate conscious employees can demand, as well as guides for different job functions: finance, government relations, HR, legal, marketing, procurement and sales. WorkForClimate and Planet Groups also have some tips.

Abandoning fossil fuels should not mean abandoning fossil fuel workers - companies and governments need to have plans for a “just transition” for workers to support them in getting good jobs that don’t rely high-emitting energy sources.

While we need to start rapidly reducing our reliance on all fossil fuels, this is most urgent for coal - inefficient and, heavily polluting. Coal usage must be ramped down as soon as possible. The International Energy Agency has further found that there should be no further investment in new fossil fuel supply to achieve net zero by 2050.

Energy companies are obviously the most significant contributors to climate change. Several technology solutions that have emerged in recent years emit high levels of emissions, such as data centres for cloud computing, blockchain services, and ride-hailing apps like Uber. Supply chains that contribute to deforestation also play a role, such as those for palm oil (found in around 50% of packaged products in supermarkets).

The Transition Pathway Initiative evaluates the alignment of companies in high-emitting sectors with a 1.5 degree scenario over the short-, medium- and long-term.

Banks and investors may also enable poor practices by the companies they lend to or invest in. PR and ad agencies also play a role in greenwashing the image of unsustainable companies.

  • Is your company a major emitter? Does it have a credible plan to get to net zero greenhouse gas emissions on a sufficiently urgent timeline, with (crucially) interim reduction targets?
  • Does your company provide services to any major emitters? Does it have a policy prohibiting business relations with companies that fail to contribute to climate solutions?
  • Does your company contribute to climate change through its supply chain, perhaps through indirect emissions or deforestation?

Human Rights

We live in a globalised world, where the products we buy, or our employers buy, have often travelled a long way before they make it to us. Along the way, they may have caused or contributed to human rights abuses, either directly or through their suppliers.

Respecting and protecting human rights needs to be a minimum expectation of the companies we work for. To do this, companies should be able to trace the origins of each component part of their products and ascertain that no human rights breaches took place at any point along the way.

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights set out a framework for companies to prevent, address and remedy human rights abuses committed in business operations. The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre has some resources on how companies have gone about implementing the UNGPs.

Do you work for a consumer brand and are concerned about potential human rights abuses in your supply chains? See further information here.

200 of the biggest publicly-traded companies are ranked annually on their human rights performance; see how your company fares. Companies based in Asia and companies in the ICT manufacturing sector tend to score lowest on their human rights performance.

  • Does your company undertake due diligence to ensure that there are no human rights breaches throughout its supply chain (i.e. beyond its direct suppliers)?
  • Where a human rights breach is found to have taken place, does your company provide remedy and compensation that is satisfactory to the victim?


It might seem a technical and dull concept, but the staggering amount of corporation tax that is stashed in tax havens every year is estimated at up to $600bn a year - an amount that could transform the ability of governments around the world to provide for their citizens and invest in infrastructure and public services. Companies rely on government spending for infrastructure, security, and a healthy and educated workforce, but too often contribute as little to it as they can.

This problem has been particularly notable during the COVID-19 crisis, as many companies that have benefited from government programmes have been shown to have paid little to no corporation tax.

Closing tax loopholes is undoubtedly governments’ job. Nonetheless, profitable companies spend money on aggressive tax planning (organising their activities intentionally to minimise taxes) rather than contributing to the societies they rely on. They employ armies of accountants and lobbyists to exploit loopholes. It doesn’t have to be this way.

A great resource with answers to just about everything is here. The Tax Justice Network has prepared answers to some FAQs here, including why this isn’t an issue just for governments.

Countries across the globe are damaged by the reduced tax revenues they are able to collect from companies. Yet this is a particular problem for low-income countries, who are estimated to miss out on around $200bn in corporate tax revenues per year - that’s greater than the amount they receive in development assistance.

Some media outlets prepare lists of the biggest tax dodgers in their country, including: Australia, UK, US.

  • How much tax did your company pay in your jurisdiction last year?
  • Does your company declare a significant amount of its profits in a tax haven such as the British Virgin Islands or Bermuda?
  • Is your company certified with a Fair Tax Mark to indicate they’re paying a reasonable rate of tax? Why not?
  • Does your company supply aggressive tax planning services to other businesses?

Political Donations and Lobbying

Excessive corporate influence over decision-making in politics is a serious problem in many regions of the world. Companies, either directly or through trade associations that they are a member of, donate money to politicians who they perceive as likely to favour their interests (or to push them to do so). Frequently, donations and lobbying activities run counter to the declared beliefs of those same companies - for example, companies that are climate champions in public but privately donate funds to climate deniers or lobby to water down public interest regulations.

On donations specifically, there is a question whether corporate money has any place in the political system at all, but there can be little doubt that there is too much of it there at the moment. In the US, the top 10 donors alone in the 2018 election cycle contributed almost half a billion dollars.

This is not about influencing whether money flows to liberal or conservative parties; this is about eliminating the ability of companies to undermine the public good and decide the outcomes of elections.

Vox prepared 40 charts explaining the state of money in politics - while from 2014 and limited to the US, most of these trends continue today and are true in other countries: the amount of money is going up, the candidate with the most money usually wins, a tiny percentage of the population is responsible for the majority of donations. There is also a TED talk and something more lighthearted setting out the issue.

For the US, Open Secrets publishes a database of the top donors and spenders on lobbying per election cycle. Goods Unite Us also publish data on how companies and their senior employees donate money, and compares their behaviour to rival brands. Many donations lack transparency and come in the form of “dark money” - Issue One set out to trace the funders of the top 15 dark money groups.

Newsletter Popular Information has also compiled lists of companies that donate to politicians who voted to overturn the 2020 US Presidential Election, and those whose donations contradicts their stated commitment to Black Lives Matter and LGBT rights.

  • How much money does your company spend on political donations and lobbying?
  • What goals has your company pursued through its political engagement activities? Are they consistent with its stated values?
  • What trade associations is your company a member of? Do its policy positions align with those of your company?
  • Has your company established pro-democracy policies?

Still looking?

Wondering how to work out what are the most relevant issues for your company?

If your company publishes an annual report - particularly if you work at a large public company - consider going through it. Most of these reports include a section on sustainability which is often heavy on marketing but can give you an idea of areas where the company is having its largest impacts. Annual reports also must include major risk factors facing the company, including from litigation, which can reveal controversial practices.