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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Rhiannon Curry

How pro-business is King Charles?

King Charles III has made a number of speeches to business leaders

(Picture: PA Wire)

King Charles III acedes the throne at a time of historic financial turmoil as UK inflation hits a 40-year high, while companies face unprecedented challenges with rising costs and dented consumer confidence on the back of a once-in-a-century pandemic.

So where does the new King stand when it comes to business?

Long a proponent of using the private sector to solve the world’s problems, Charles has generally used his time in front of business leaders to urge them to take collective action to tackle climate change by reducing emissions and adopting greener working practices.

He first made a speech on the issue in 1970, when he called for more recycling and a reduction in the reliance on cars and aeroplanes.

But he began to double-down on businesses in particular in recent decades.

In 2013, the then Prince of Wales told an audience of leading financial officers from companies such as GlaxoSmithKline, Burberry and Network Rail that the world was “consuming our children and grandchildren’s inheritance in order to fuel today’s short-term untenable economic growth”.

He told his audience at an Accounting for Sustainability Project event that those who ignored the evidence of climate change were like those who failed to heed Sir Winston Churchill’s warnings about global conflict ahead of the Second World War.

By January 2020, the prince had launched his Sustainable Markets Initiative, which aims to restructure business practices at the highest levels by uniting industry leaders across the public and private sectors under the banner of doing greener business.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where many others were also urging businesses to work together to come up with solutions to the climate crisis, he explained that it is the responsibility of the business world to flick the switch permanently towards sustainable ways of working.

He told the assembled crowd: “We need nothing short of a paradigm shift.”

The prince went on to say that old processes within the financial markets and in big business would be overwritten by “a higher purpose mission putting people and planet at the heart of global value creation”.”

The speech marked a more concentrated period for the prince where he targeted the business world as key orchestrators of global change.

In October 2021, he tried to persuade some of China’s biggest companies to join his environmental initiatives and take stronger action on climate change at an online meeting organised by president Xi Jinping.

He told the leaders, including representatives from Bank of China and energy company China Huaneng, that he hoped to establish a “China Council” as part of his Sustainable Markets Initiative.

The next month, the prince addressed the Cop26 summit in Glasgow, telling the assembled business leaders from across the world that they needed to unleash the trillions at their disposal to help transform fossil fuel-based economies to a more sustainable model.

He said the strength of the global private sector was greater than that of governments and represented the only real prospect of fundamental change.

At the other end of the scale, the King has also championed small business via The Prince’s Trust, which provides training and employment help for young people, and also supports people under the age of 30 to start their own business.

So while the new King is pro-business, he has been focused on industry’s ability to effect change for the environment, and how starting a business can improve the lives of disadvantaged young people.

As far as we know, the work of The Prince’s Trust will continue.

It isn’t clear what the future is for the Sustainable Markets Initiative - its website simply warns that some information on it may now be out of date after the Queen’s death.

But after more than 50 years of campaigning, it seems implausible that the new King will now turn his back on his passion for the environment.

Nor is he likely to let businesses off the hook.

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