It was in the works even before a little dust-up back in June. B Lab has given stakeholders till Nov. 15 to comment on draft revisions of the future standards for B Corp Certification.
Although B Labs started the review back in December 2020, the revisions have taken on more urgency since Nestle’s Nespresso business unit was awarded B Corp status in May. A month later, a handful of member companies and a watchdog organization sent a letter to B Lab questioning Nespresso’s certification because of concerns over human rights violations on farms that grow its coffee.
B Lab manages an evaluation process that certifies its members as public benefit corporations, a relatively new form of incorporation in the business world that legally requires companies to balance shareholders’ financial interests with the benefits they bring to people, the planet and broader society.
The timing of this review of the rules is interesting. “The short answer is that it’s a bit of both. This standard revision and feedback process is indeed a regular occurrence for B Corp, it’s part of their structure to update the standards every so many years,” said Ryan Fletcher, media relations director for Fair World Project.
“However, the challenge to Nespresso’s certification and concerns with B Corps who have had labor disputes or other inconsistencies with ‘business for good’ have played a role in creating an urgency around this latest review,” he continued. “B Corp I believe is expediting their process for feedback because of recent pressure and dissent.”
After the Nespresso certification, fair trade advocacy group Fair World Project and nine small companies, half of them coffee companies, signed on to an open letter to B Lab Global calling on the organization “to strengthen standards to maintain integrity and relevance of the certification.”
B Lab wrote this week that the goal of the current review “was to understand whether more specific and mandatory performance requirements on key topics could ensure that B Corp Certification continues to differentiate leading companies using business as a force for good,” B Lab wrote in its announcement this week.
“As part of this work, the B Corp standards are moving away from a flexible approach linked to achieving an 80-point score in the B Impact Assessment across a range of criteria, to one where all B Corps must meet requirements on 10 topics that define leadership on social, governance, and environmental business impact,” the certifying group said. “The new standards are a natural evolution of what it means to be a B Corp, making certification more relevant than ever before for the challenges we face today and tomorrow.”
The new requirements “are claiming to be [stronger] but I really need some more time to review,” said one B Corp member.
“While significant improvements have been made to our certification standards since B Lab began in 2006, the core aspects of the B Impact Assessment have remained consistent — including the fact that the certification is rooted in a company achieving an overall verified score of 80 through a flexible range of practices and attributes,” B Lab wrote. “This approach has been tremendously valuable and impactful in the first 15 years of this movement, yet it has also demonstrated its limitations and challenges.”
“Whether the changes will be substantial or minor will, for many, determine the future of the B Corp movement,” continued Fletcher. “The hope for many -- and the promise of B Corp leadership -- is that this process will significantly improve the standards. It’s been very much ‘wait and see.’ ”