How to… establish an ethical business
Clean for Good is a social business (which Church Mission Society invests in) that enables cleaners to thrive not just survive. Tim Thorlby was part of the founding team and is currently its managing director. Here he shares lessons learned.
In the City of London, every morning, thousands of well-dressed people hurry to work: financiers, lawyers and others who work in the City’s glass and steel skyscrapers.
At the same time, thousands of other workers are going in the opposite direction, back home or on to their next job. There is an unheralded army of hidden workers who keep the City of London running – the cleaners, security guards and couriers, among others – whose work is essential, but often overlooked. Their invisibility has worked against them as their jobs have been outsourced and budgets downsized. Out of sight, out of mind. Many of them now rank among the lowest paid and worst treated workers in the UK. This is not just a problem in London; some five million workers earn less than a Living Wage in the UK today.
In 2014, a small church in the City of London conducted a listening exercise among low paid workers in its parish, asking them what they wanted. A very simple but powerful question.
They didn’t want more church services, or any kind of charity. They just wanted fair pay and respect at work. Justice, not charity.
The church was St Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe, whose vicar at the time was Guy Treweek, newly ordained after a financial career in the City. He was particularly moved by the challenges the area’s cleaners were facing. He was open to the idea that “good news” for the cleaners of London might actually mean creating an ethical cleaning company which would deliver the fair pay and dignity that they were asking for. His colleague Miriam Goodacre, the parish’s new Commission for Social Responsibility officer, enthusiastically took on the challenge and helped to turn a crazy idea into a real project.
Church Mission Society is entwined in this story too. St Andrew’s is the church where CMS held its first meetings in the late 18th century, around the kitchen table. The idea for an ethical cleaning company took shape in that same kitchen. Having completed CMS’s Make Good missional entrepreneurship course in 2014, Miriam was able to craft the idea into something deliverable.
The project also benefited from technical support in creating a detailed business plan (by the Centre for Theology & Community), a few grants to help pay for the development process, and of course, identifying investors to fund the new business. The founding team raised capital investment of nearly £90,000.
On Valentine’s Day in 2017, our start-up manager, Catherine, began getting Clean for Good off the ground.
Clean for Good is a business with a social purpose. Cleaning offices and workspaces across London, the business aims to deliver an excellent professional cleaning service, but also to deliver a fair deal for our cleaners. The broader vision is that by setting a new standard for how cleaners are treated – and sharing this – we can impact the cleaning sector more broadly. We want to see every cleaner paid fairly and treated with respect.
Clean for Good is a business, not a charity. Our cleaners are not looking for sympathy, just fair pay and respect in return for delivering a good service.
We are now in our third year and have grown steadily to an annual turnover exceeding £0.5m. We have won contracts from businesses, charities and public sector organisations. We currently employ over 40 cleaners. We are aiming to achieve a small surplus this year. We recently helped to launch the 2019 Living Wage Week, alongside the Mayor of London.
Are we really different?
When Clean for Good was launched, we made three promises – to cleaners, to customers and to the planet. Are we delivering?
Firstly, our promise to cleaners. We are a Living Wage Employer, always paying the London Living Wage (£10.55 per hour) or more. Nearly 90 per cent of our recruits get a pay rise when they join us. We also offer decent terms and conditions above statutory minimums – sick pay, pensions, holidays – and actively train and manage our team. Clean for Good has built a reputation for treating its cleaners fairly.
Secondly, we deliver a good, professional, reliable cleaning service to our customers. In our last customer survey (September 2019) we achieved excellent satisfaction ratings for our service.
The third promise we made is to future generations. We have chosen to set high environmental standards as a company so as to tread lightly on our planet. We minimise the use of chemicals, but when chemicals are needed, we use independently eco-certified products. We minimise our carbon use.
We launched this business to be the best cleaning company in London – good news for cleaners, customers and the City.
Some lessons we have learned: There are no heroes, only teams – Clean for Good has always been a collective endeavour.
Many of our workplaces need a renewed focus on what dignity at work looks like. The cleaning industry is one example. The Church and its members need to be fully involved in the marketplace. Sometimes the answer to a social problem is not charity, but justice.