Healthy Cynicism, Not Legislation, Is the Way to Nudge Business

25/02/2016 14:41 GMT | Updated 24/02/2017 10:12 GMT

Since I set up People against Sugar Tax last summer, lots of people have been asking us whether we are funded by food or drinks companies, and each time we say that we're not.

We did explore the idea of looking to industry for funding at the very beginning, but then we made the specific decision not to. If we had accepted industry funding, it would have had a negative impact on our campaign message. It is a decision that we stand by today.

But this specific issue for us does raise the wider issue about corporate interests, corporate social responsibility, and the public perception of big business.

I'm a fan of big business. I'm very happy for big business to make profits, employ thousands of people, and produce products which we all love. Provided that due taxes are paid, staff are paid reasonably well, there is no environmental damage, and that products are safe, then what is the issue?

Peter Mandelson once said he was 'intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich'. Well he had a point. We should all be striving towards improving prosperity.

Having said that though, the amount of cynicism about big business is a very healthy part of this debate. It is right for people to be cynical about business. This cynicism keeps business on its toes. It keeps business in check. We should celebrate that.

Take McDonald's for example. They have been criticised over many issues for years, and some of it may have been justified. But look at how McDonald's have responded. They now produce 100% British beef, free range eggs, and their pork is from Freedom Food-approved farms. Their food has never been better quality.

None of that required legislation. These moves by McDonald's were made on their own initiative so that they could improve their reputation amongst consumers.

Would McDonald's have done any of this without the years of criticism from campaigners and the healthy cynicism of the public? Probably not.

It is this healthy cynicism that persuades big business to raise its game. With a few exceptions, there is no need for legislation or government meddling.

It would be sad if people could not communicate their concerns and grievances about the way business conducts itself. But we live in a world where people can, and have been, making their voices heard loud and clear. The amplifier has been switched on, and has been put to good use.

The sheer amount of healthy cynicism, combined with the modern media landscape, simply does not allow big business to cut corners. Maybe 40 or 50 years ago, but not now. The amount of scrutiny of big business these days has never been greater.

The balance between consumer interests and business interests is perfectly positioned. It is the best of both worlds. Campaigners have an audience to make their grievances known, and business is still allowed to make profits.

As far as the sugar debate is concerned, the health campaigners need to recognise that they have an audience, they have a platform, and their message is definitely being heard.

But they also need to recognise that business needs be left alone to make profits. They need also to recognise that 'big business' or 'big sugar' provides jobs for thousands of people across the UK, helping fund the NHS.

Campaigners also need to recognise that there are smaller family businesses who will be affected by the campaign against sugar too.

Right now, the balance between public cynicism and the ability of business to make profits is nicely balanced. It's perfectly balanced. Let's leave it as it is.