Certified B Corporations

Professor Kevin Haines
February 2022

To achieve Certified B Corporation accreditation a company must meet, what is termed, the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability that balances profit with purpose. The assessment process, which is unlike many ESG rating processes, starts with a detailed questionnaire covering governance, workers, community, environment and customers; the whole process can take six months or more. There are currently 3,500 certified B corporations globally and about 400 in the UK. 

Certified B Corporations are a new kind of business that balances purpose and profit. They are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. This is a community of leaders, driving a global movement of people using business as a force for good. https://bcorporation.net/

B Corp certification is available to for-profit companies that apply to B Lab, a non-global profit organisation and pay for it.

Rhetorically, B Lab views many of the ESG-related challenges and problems we face (as a planet) as being the result of the unfettered pursuit of profit. Accordingly, it seeks to rebalance the profit motive with a broad range of ESG concerns. In the B Lab certification process, a businesses must sign a “Declaration of Interdependence”, committing it to using “business as a force for good.” The company must modify its governing bylaws to allow directors to “consider stakeholders besides shareholders in company decision-making”.

Assessment: an alternative view

Certification is initially self-assessed and doesn't override the profit-driven focus of the company. B Corp standards are not legally enforceable (not to be confused with Benefit Corporation which is a legal status conferred by state law in the US). In practice a company can complete its initial assessment in a matter of hours and certification can be achieved, after payment of a fee of between 500 USD AND 50,000 USD, within four to eight weeks. To the extent that UK law already promotes sustainability reporting and British firms have the flexibility to amend their articles of association to reflect their social responsibilities, one may question the need for B Corporation certification, although it is riding the wave of ESG consciousness. B Lab has raised over 32m USD since 2006. Much of this funding comes from foundations or large organisations; 6m USD has been raised from certification fees and a further 5m USD from donations. B Lab paid 6m USD in salaries and compensation in 2017. 

Here’s a question: is B Lab a Certified B Corporation? 

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