Transparency with ESG goals is key in a world of declining trust, says Robert Peston

CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition’s opening keynote speaker praises businesses that were previously ‘terrified’ of standing up and talking about sustainability

Credit: Emma Beaumont & Andrew Ferraro

Business transparency – in terms of ESG and sustainability goals – is “absolutely key” in a world of declining trust, according to ITV News political editor Robert Peston. 

Speaking at the opening keynote at this year’s CIPD’s Annual Conference and Exhibition today (9 November), Peston said businesses needed to “mean what they say” to alleviate any doubts around ESG commitments. 

“There is a fear that when corporations say they are doing ‘green stuff’ that it’s not real and [that it] is really disguising polluting activity behind the scenes,” said Peston. 

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Peston added that all of us, whether individuals or corporations, have a responsibility to stand up and have our voices heard on issues that are “vital”. 

He also expressed his relief that businesses that were once “terrified” about standing up and saying anything about subjects such as climate change and ESG are not anymore. 

Additionally, Peston discussed the state of leadership, both in the UK’s political landscape and in the workplace. He said that over the years he has come across people “in politics and business who you might describe as narcissistic sociopaths” who “hide in plain sight”. 

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“The terrible thing about them is they are very good at hiding in plain sight and getting to the top, so we have to be aware of that, which is why people who aren’t sociopaths need to stand up and be counted,” he said. 

He remarked that he had seen “tremendous changes” in the workplace in terms of what’s deemed “acceptable behaviour”, but said that while business leaders far surpass political leaders when it comes to creating welcoming working environments, it wasn’t always the case. Peston described his previous companies as being “filled with Sir Gavin Williamsons” – a nod to the headline-making minister who recently resigned amid bullying allegations. 

“That kind of aggressive, macho treatment of colleagues was everywhere. In the private sector, most organisations have zero tolerance of those kinds of things,” he said.

“In most private sector companies those individuals would have been out the door way quicker, and I think parliament is behind the curve [compared to business] for cleaning up its act in that sense.”