Business is a form of economic activity framed by a set of rules. Those rules can be changed.

Economic activity happens all the time, whenever we’re doing anything useful or productive for ourselves, our families or our communities. Business is a way of organising that activity within a group, so that people can share resources and be more productive.

Productive activity within a group generally requires a much larger financial investment than an individual would need, so the rules are designed to favour investors, to encourage people to invest and receive the profits from the business.

But it doesn’t follow that people setting up in business are only in it for the money profits. There are not-for-profit and co-operative businesses as well as those making money for their owners, and even these owners are often keen to operate more inclusively and sustainably.

Rules that favour money-investors over workers, suppliers, customers and other stakeholders (as well as the environment) make that difficult. When money-making is the sole objective, it’s normal for companies to operate to the lowest standards and with the lowest wages that the rules will allow. So it’s hard to stay in business if you want to do something different.

Companies are “legal persons”, but unlike real people they have no human characteristics to help guide their behaviour. Instead they’re guided by company law, which says that they exist to get the best financial return for their shareholders. That law could change, so that money-making becomes only one of a range of social and environmental priorities that companies exist to serve.

That’s why rules matter. Most companies will obey a legal standard provided it’s the same for everyone. If we want a system of business that works for everyone we simply have to change the rules.