Why independent certification is important for social enterprises

Why certify in the first place?
If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck – is it a duck? Or does it matter if it’s a duck or a Christmas turkey disguised as a duck when it tastes nice and lays good eggs? (not that I’ve ever tried turkey eggs!)

Social enterprise is a term that has been around for a number of years now, but there are many people who are confused partly because there is no legal definition and partly because the term seems to have been adopted by so many different people, all having their own ideas about what it is. There’s also been a culture which ignored the integrity of such businesses, as long as it got the right results and demonstrated social impact.

Have customers really thought about the type of business that they are buying from though and if they knew, would they make different choices?

Witness the high-street banks. We all thought they were doing a great job, until the short term shareholder profit motivation and bonus culture was exposed along with the associated behaviours. Then there are the ethics – why should a company that is set up to support some of the most vulnerable in our society, then take individual profit for doing this?

In addition, how can you protect the integrity of something if you don’t know what it is that you are protecting?

Certification is necessary as it places boundaries and criteria which develop common understanding of the product, what it does and what it stands for.

So why not self-certify after all it’s quicker, cheaper and potentially more accessible?

Easy accessibility is its key downfall. It does not protect integrity, it is inconsistent and is open to self-interpretation and in the worst cases, abuse.

Having run the Social Enterprise Mark since the beginning, we have developed the criteria in partnership with the sector and have protected and owned these criteria fiercely. It is our experience that interpretation of the criteria is a technical job and not easily carried out by anyone. We are constantly learning about new forms of social enterprise and the way that they operate. Our Assessment Manual has taken years of work to develop and our certification panel has taken its job very seriously in developing those precedents which have been set.

This might all sound really boring and techy but it’s important for the future of social enterprise if we are not just to be subsumed into the wider corporate responsibility camp.

We stand for so much more and our Mark proves that this is the case.

For a more indepth understanding, have a look at Social Enterprise Mark’s criteria

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