Wesfarmers Chairman Michael Chaney on sustainability
Hello everyone. When people talk about sustainability for a company, the sort of things that usually spring to mind, are matters like your environmental footprint, or your carbon emissions and what you are doing about them. How you manage your waste, how much water you use, how much energy used, what sort of diversity do you have in your workforce. They are all really critical things, they are really important for companies to focus on and to manage if they are going to thrive in the long term. But the last year has given us an opportunity to focus on another really important and critical aspect of sustainability for companies. And that is how we look after the interests of all of our stakeholders.
Wesfarmers has always been very clear in the stating that its primary objective is to provide a satisfactory return to shareholders, but we have always been adamant about qualifying that with a statement that we can only achieve good returns in the long term, if we look after the interests of all our stakeholders, our suppliers and employees, our customers and the communities in which we operate.
COVID-19 has given us an opportunity to put those words into action. With regard to our suppliers, we have made sure that we keep buying from them and that we pay them on time. For our customers, we have made sure that products are available, that they are priced fairly, that our stores remain open where possible, and that we have safe practices in the stores. And for example, changing the way we go into or out of a store at Bunnings or at Kmart, making sure there’s social distancing in the store, making sure people wear masks if that is being mandated, and very importantly for our team members. Over the last year, we have been really heavily engaged in making sure that they are working in safe environments, that there is proper social distancing, that they are able to work from home if that is what’s required.
And finally, during this pandemic, we have gone out to all of the community partners that we have, people who we contribute money to and asked them what their needs were, whether there is anything additional we can do to help them.
We have been able to do all those things I think for two reasons. The first is that the company has a strong balance sheet. We have always been financially pretty prudent, we have not taken on too much debt during the good times, so that we are able to respond like this during much more difficult times. But the second thing is, I think about the Wesfarmers culture. Even though we are a diverse business with autonomously run divisions, there is terrific collaboration across the group, so that if something happens, or someone learns something in one division we can quickly apply it in other divisions.
But also, I think, there is a genuine desire in Wesfarmers to make sure that we do have a positive impact on our community generally, and there is a culture that all of our stakeholders are important. That we have got an obligation look after their interests as well as the interests of our shareholders, and that if we do all of those things we will be here in the long-term, we will be sustainable in the long term.
We have been a company now for 106 years, and I think if we do all of those things right, we will be here for a long time to come.
Michael Chaney AO
Wesfarmers Non-executive Chairman
12 August 2020
GRI 102-14, GRI 102-15, GRI 102-16