Social Impact

At Pearson, we’re constantly assessing and reassessing the opportunities and challenges of responsible business practice. We are currently committed to making a difference in these three areas:

  • Raising literacy levels
  • Improving learning outcomes
  • Contributing to competitiveness

Raising literacy levels

Reading is the basic building block that helps people realise their personal potential, yet globally, one in five adults cannot read – that amounts to almost 800 million people!

While most people who cannot read live in poorer areas of the world – by way of example, Africa has less than a 60% literacy rate and countries with high illiteracy rates include India, China, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Indonesia, and Egypt – it would be a mistake to think that this is only an issue in developing economies of the world.

According to the National Adult Literacy Survey, there are some 40 million adults in the United States who cannot read or write well enough to deal with the everyday requirements of life. Similar research suggests that one-fifth of adults in England have difficulties with basic literacy.

For a business built on the premise that people can read, learn and enjoy doing it, we have a keen interest in doing all we can to help generate more and enthusiastic readers.

Our approach

Our reading programmes – both print and digital – are found in classrooms the world over. For many, the first story they read or that is read aloud to them will be one of our titles. We run projects and campaigns, often in partnership with the Pearson Foundation, that encourage reading or promote literacy.

Improving learning outcomes

There’s plenty of debate over what makes an effective education system and a concern in both developed and emerging markets that individual institutions and entire education systems are no longer fit-for-purpose for the modern world.

What role should businesses play? Governments, policymakers, teachers and students rightly expect that where possible, companies should research and report on the learning outcomes that arise from their services and that they are transparent and responsible in their marketing and communications. They should also contribute to the wider debate on how education systems can be improved.

Companies that do this can benefit from increased sales and market share and improved reputation. By taking the initiative, we believe that we can make a difference to the quality of education and achieve business growth.

Our approach

We ensure that our own education programmes are developed and assessed for quality, efficacy and usability. We help close achievement gaps for individual learners and schools. We run projects and campaigns, often in partnership with The Pearson Foundation, that support teacher education and development, and we help share what works between education policymakers.

Contributing to competitiveness

The connection between education and long-term economic growth is well documented and increasingly well understood. Our role in global macroeconomics may be relatively small, but it can be highly significant to individual learners.

Our products, services and partnerships play a role in helping individuals progress, countries boost their workplace skills, as well as helping inform business decision-making.

Responsible business practice

We adopt a broad and holistic definition of ‘responsible business,’ capturing priorities relevant to our stakeholders that we share in common with other industries and individual companies.


During 2000, Pearson, along with other companies, signed a Global Compact at the United Nations, which sets out a series of principles on labour standards, human rights, and the environment.

Since 2001, we have put in place our commitments and ways to monitor our performance against these principles, and report annually on our progress.

Some of the Global Compact principles concern the environment and are covered by our environmental policy. One principle relates to anti-corruption and our Code of Conduct describes the standards that we set ourselves in that area. Others refer to labour standards and human rights. They are:

Labour standards

  • Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining
  • The elimination of all forms of compulsory labour
  • The abolition of child labour
  • The elimination of discrimination in employment and occupation.

Human rights

  • To support and respect international human rights within our sphere of influence
  • To ensure that we are not complicit in human rights abuses
  • The report on our progress describes how our guidelines reflect the UN principles and shows the progress made against our key commitments.