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Nobel Laureate Yunus joins pleas to Salesforce

3 September 2012
photo of Muhammad Yunus

As a lifelong advocate of the power of enterprise to create good for the poor of the world I respectfully ask that Salesforce stops its attempts to trademark the phrase 'social enterprise'. It brings unnecessary confusion to the marketplace.

Nobel Laureate professor Muhammad Yunus

People and organisations from across the world – including Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus and Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, co-authors of The Spirit Level – have signed a letter to Marc Benioff, CEO and Chairman of Salesforce, asking the technology giant to stop using the term ‘social enterprise’ for private gain.

The letter co-ordinated by umbrella body Social Enterprise UK follows mounting concerns about Salesforce’s attempts to trademark the term ‘social enterprise’ in the US, EU, Australia and Jamaica, and its repeated use of the term ‘social enterprise’ to describe its products. 

The company is also claiming that its customers, including the private companies Virgin America, Burberry and Spotify, are transforming into social enterprises.

Social Enterprise UK claims social enterprise is ‘widely understood to describe businesses that exist to tackle social and environmental issues, whose surpluses are reinvested rather than driven by the need to maximise profit for shareholders and owners’. It cites well known examples including Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen, The Big Issue and Divine Chocolate. 

‘The social enterprise term has been used for nearly two decades by a worldwide movement for social justice,’ said Social Enterprise UK. ‘World leaders including Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and David Cameron have spoken of the potential of social enterprise, and earlier this year Big Society Capital, the world’s first social investment wholesaler, was launched in the UK by the Prime Minister.’

Professor Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank and Nobel Laureate, said: ‘As a lifelong advocate of the power of enterprise to create good for the poor of the world I respectfully ask that Salesforce stops its attempts to trademark the phrase “social enterprise”. It brings unnecessary confusion to the marketplace.’

Those keen to protect what they call ‘the real social enterprise movement’ assert that dilution of the term by Salesforce and confusing its meaning is going to be harmful.  ‘Any successful attempts to appropriate the term will close doors for genuine social enterprises that deliver services across health, education, housing and transport, and exist to tackle social and environmental problems in the communities where they work.’

The letter has been signed by the Social Enterprise World Forum Committee and associations in countries including Australia, Canada, Germany, Brazil, USA and South Africa.

In the UK, membership organisations representing charities and social enterprises have lent their support, from Co-operatives UK to the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations and Social Enterprise UK.

The Not in Our Name campaign, started by Social Enterprise UK in recent weeks in response to its members voicing their concerns about Salesforce, has spread across the globe. The campaign has rapidly gained pace through the use of Twitter.

Peter Holbrook, CEO of Social Enterprise UK, said: ‘For Salesforce to adopt a term that has been used by a global movement of businesses that exist to tackle some of the world’s most pressing problems – poverty, inequality, unemployment and global warming – could do untold damage to an important, rapidly growing sector.

‘In their quest to appropriate the term for their own benefit, Salesforce risks harming the social enterprise movement’s future,’ Holbrook claimed. ‘A great deal of energy and resource has been invested into the social enterprise movement in the last 20 years.  We’re at a tipping point where people are beginning to understand that business can be established primarily as a tool for social and environmental good.  This effort and hard work must not be undone.  We’re simply asking that they find another term to describe their products rather than seeking to appropriate the goodwill associated with social enterprise movement.’

Will Nixon, CEO of PM Training, said: ‘PM Training support hundreds of young people in Staffordshire’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods into apprentices and help to transform deprived communities through environmental improvements. As a social enterprise, we are valued for delivering high quality services that achieve wider social benefits – many of our customers choose to work with us because of our social enterprise status. True social enterprises could suffer if our unique way of working is undermined or confused by Salesforce and we would ask them respectfully to reconsider their position.’

Karen Lynch, CEO of water company Belu, said: ‘Social enterprises have existed for over two decades to solve the world’s social and environmental problems, to define an ethical business community and a way of doing “business for good”. It’s an outrage that Salesforce are trying to take-over the term for their own private gain. What would be next, “not-for-profit”?’

Salesforce’s CEO and chair have explained their company’s position in a recent statement and blog.

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