To avert digital dystopia – human disruption is needed

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“We cannot sleepwalk towards the automation of everything…”

Excerpts from a speech by Robert Phillips introducing Business in the Community’s 2017 Responsible Business Week, held in the Aviva auditorium, London, on April 24 2017.

Responsible Business Week’s opening session explored the actions business can take to ensure the digital revolution serves all of society. The talk was followed by a panel discussion with CBI Director-General Carolyn Fairbairn and TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady and BITC CEO Amanda Mackenzie.

Further contributions/ provocations came from BITC Chairman Antony Jenkins, Accenture’s Justin Keeble, Aviva’s Chief Digital Officer Andrew Brem and Minister of State for Trade Policy, former Waitrose CEO, Lord Mark Price.



The shift to the digital economy intensifies the urgency of the responsible business agenda. A digital revolution can serve all of society, building direct, open and accountable relationships between business and the communities in which it operates. But technology can also support yet more bad corporate behaviours.

To address the unintended consequences of the much-vaunted “fourth industrial revolution”, some very human interventions will be needed:

  • We should not seek efficiencies at the cost of human potential and wellbeing.
  • We should not eulogise the gig economy, when it leaves so many vulnerable.
  • We should not let the wider responsibility agenda follow the path of CSR – downwards towards platitudes and compliance.
  • We must ask what constitutes responsible business leadership in the digital age; and how leaders can be held accountable for responsible or irresponsible actions.

A positive digital transformation prioritises the needs of citizens and puts people and planet before profit. Technology provides tools for change but also gives bad behaviour further succour. We are therefore at a crossroads, but we can turn on the path to “Good” and “Better”.







 “If we don’t hang on to the human elements of the digital revolution we won’t see the benefits. The accountability that digital brings is very real… leaders are having to be different and more human. ”

Carolyn Fairbairn, Director-General, CBI


Chaired by Robert Phillips, the panel explores the paradox that digital gives leaders more tools to increase efficiencies, reduce costs, and drive profit – possibly at the cost of abandoning the responsibility agenda.

  • How does business embrace the changing nature of work?
  • What hope for a real commitment to human value in business?
  • How can digital transformation engineer a shift where a business leader becomes accountable for a more direct relationship between workers and employees and between customers?


“There’s an issue about who’s in the room when decisions are taken about how we’re designing digital and for what purpose. Is it to make jobs richer and more satisfying, or is it simply to cut jobs at any price? So collectively, as a society, we need to take a step back and ask “What kind of framework do we need to make sure there’s a new social consensus – so that this fourth industrial revolution works for everyone…?”

Frances O’Grady, TUC General Secretary


A conversation with TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady investigates what digital technologies mean for unions’ role in the workplace, with workers now needing greater voice, representation and skills support than ever before. The discussion also touches on digital’s potential to provide individuals with richer, more satisfying working lives.



“Bringing in the digital revolution, let’s be very thoughtful to ensure all parts of our country are helped. If there are known and proven examples of good practice, we want to be able to signpost and connect people to use digital where the need can best be fulfilled.”

Amanda Mackenzie OBE, CEO Business in the Community



“Digital needs to be designed with purpose…. we need to ensure technology reflects human values.”

Justin Keeble, Managing Director, Accenture Strategy

“We need to manage a digital evolution rather than go through a digital revolution.”

Lord Mark Price, Minister of State for Trade Policy, former CEO, Waitrose and author of Fairness for All




“Many businesses are still built on a 19th-Century model where scale was the driver of economic performance. In this new world, agility is the most important thing and our businesses are not engineered for agility. Just try asking any CEO what the biggest challenge to their business is and they will tell you it’s around digital.”

“We stand at a digital cross-roads – utopia one way, dystopia the other. How we create the utopian outcome we all seek, is rooted in what we do and how we do it. Our goal is to ensure that we take decisive action and we take it today.

Closing remarks from Antony Jenkins, Executive Chairman, 10x Banking and Chair, Business in the Community


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