As the owner of an ethical business, trying to use our economy to create products that do good, whilst also providing for myself and my family, I've come under criticism.
It's been suggested to me that I should not be making any profits, that my business should be a charity, and that I should not pay myself a salary.
It didn't surprise me to learn that Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, came under the same criticisms when she started out. However, that was in 1976, 39 years ago. Have we moved on in our ideas of what businesses are capable of?
Options for affecting change:
So how can small, change-minded businesses like mine help to change the issues that we care about?
- Raising awareness of an issue - This is a great start and one that offers a valuable contribution, but doesn't necessarily create action. Most of us "like" causes on Facebook then move on without taking any action that makes a difference.
- Working to remedy outcomes of a problem - many charities take this valuable approach. However, this not a sustainable option for all issues, as it doesn't prevent the problem happening in the first place. Additionally, people are already being saturated by requests from charities haranguing them for donations.
- Offer an alternative that stops the problem occurring. An alternative that doesn't rely on donations.
Option 3 to go please?
Raising awareness, and charitable giving are hugely important. However, they are not the only positive models for change: business can be an amazing model for change: profit-making, margin-driven, penny-chasing, successful businesses!
There are some great business out there following this model already, like: Abundance Generation, Seventh Generation, Futerra, Rapanui and so many more. Here's what we do at my company to create positive change:.
1. Support positive change in manufacturing practices (stopping the problem)
- Minimising environmental impacts through the use of organic and sustainably sourced materials.
- Using certified ethically managed production facilities, and thereby supporting those that treat their workers fairly.
- Putting pressure on other companies to do the same, by helping to change the norm for clothing production
- What this means is that more people are being paid fairly, treated fairly, and child labour reduces. We can start to move away from catastrophes such as the Dhaka factory collapse in 2013 where (over 1,000 adults and children lost their lives) without waiting for global regulations to improve conditions and safety for workers.
2. Highlighting the social issues that we are passionate about (raising awareness):
- We use our hangtags to highlight our ethical policies (and we print them on SheepPooPaperTM too!)
- We've also used hangtags to inspire children to take an interests in their environment with a simple and real way they can help bumble bees and other insects - by growing a bug buffet in their garden or patio
- Allowing children to be children and choose clothes with themes that they can all enjoy. Providing the opportunity for consumers to vote with their wallets.
Too good to be true?
Y'up. Apparently so. Profiting from the positive is apparently bad. This is what I have been told so many times in these last few weeks.
We put a Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign together to fund our growth through two new product lines. We are offering real rewards (products, goodies, and votes on designs) for backing and not just asking for donations.
However, we have been told on NUMEROUS occasions during these past few weeks that people are not willing to share or talk about our campaign on their platforms because we profit from it. It's as if the fact that we are a business means that the good we are doing doesn't count. We have been commended on our mission and told that if we were 'not for profit' they would of been happy to support.
I know from talking with others that we are not alone in receiving these sorts of comments. Please share your stories and experiences.
The question is, how can we affect true change for good if we force everyone who wants to do so to conform to the charity model? How can we stop 'profit' being such a dirty word?
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