Philanthropy Impact

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Property & Social Justice – Putting the World to Rights

The need for social justice in property.

Property & Social Justice – Putting the World to Rights

Event report

One expects speakers and audience at a Philanthropy Impact event to take on difficult subjects and last Tuesday’s event hosted by Bates Wells Braithwaite at their new City of London offices was a sparkling example.  Co-hosted with my own organisation the Ethical Property Foundation Philanthropy Impact set its audience the task of considering what solutions could deliver social justice through property.

Our Chair Peter Damesick EPF Trustee and until recently CBRE’s Chair of EMEA Research expertly set the scene at a time of worldwide market distortion. And as first speaker the task, it fell to me to define not just social justice but who it is for.

I am lucky to work for an organisation with a founding vision, aligned with my values. For us both, social justice = equality. This does not mean everyone is the same but it does mean that everyone should be considered of equal value. The Foundation was set up in 2004 to promote this vision, in which buildings should be managed for the benefit of people and planet and this continues to run though all our work, whether engaging with the  property industry or advising non-profits.

The fairplace Award – our new ethical workplace accreditation – is our own mechanism for engaging with the property industry and evidencing social justice namely commitment to the equal value of everyone involved in the workplace - from landlords to contractors’ staff – as well as the community around the building and the environment. Gratifyingly there is no lack of interest amongst corporates who understand that social justice = trust and social cohesion. Awardholders include Sodexo, EMCOR UK and RBS. (www.fairplaceaward.com)   

During an impassioned debate, the panel discussed what mechanisms could be employed to promote social justice – from land value taxation and social value clauses in procurement contracts to social impact bonds and community land trusts. Bharat Mehta CEO Trust for London provided a masterly account of how TFL is exploring financial mechanisms for social investment. The Foundry in Vauxhall, which provides office space for social justice organisations - a joint project with the Foundation’s sister organisation the Ethical Property Company - being a good example.

Charles Middleton CEO of Triodos Bank UK showed us that it was in community energy aligned with effective financial models such as community investment bonds which could provide property solutions delivering social justice such as Hill Holt Wood in Lincolnshire.

However it was inequalities in housing provision – which our Chair reminded us, was a factor in all city societies requiring political will and good planning - where debate focussed. Bates Wells Braithwaite’s Jamie Huard discussed various forms of social investment and the need for public land to be proactively managed. He described the position of many London families mired in the private rental sector with little permanence, forced to move every six months or every year often far from their work and children’s schools.   

The need for social justice in property was well proven and the role of social investors indisputable. It was also agreed that creating the market for property solutions with business was a question of creating opportunity, expertise, imagination and generosity. I departed with a good feeling that perhaps this debate would harvest down the line, not only changed perceptions but realities too.

Antonia Swinson is an award winning business journalist and CEO of the Ethical Property Foundation