Commentary

There Is No Place To Hide

We’ll begin with the small stuff. Endorser Rick Ross degrades women, and Reebok pays. A sleazy supplier sells Ikea horse meatballs and Ikea pays. A basketball coach bullies his players and Rutgers pays. No consumer brand or any other institution can escape scandal anymore unharmed.

Enforced transparency (your every action and inaction searchable on Google in perpetuity) and social media have not only taken every institution from its fortress and relocated it to a glass house -- the whole world is standing outside that house, gaping in.

This is a really good time in history, therefore, for business to behave itself -- in ways large and small. That means being good to those who depend on you. Customers, employees, neighbors, suppliers, shareholders, the trade -- everybody, everywhere.

And now to the big stuff -- the unbearably big stuff.

Everywhere means even the Third World, where all those wretched poor people are crammed into factories laboring long hours for pitiful wages, because those pitiful wages represent their only escape from grinding poverty. Let’s just assume that the garment and electronics companies that exploit the plight of the poor are also offering low-wage workers opportunity and lifting them into a semblance of the middle class. Let’s just say.

But here’s a splendid idea: just because they are humble and uneducated and desperate and you know, swarthy, don’t use your $38 per month to lure them into a deathtrap.

Perhaps you are Benetton or Children's Place or Loblaw, and are struggling with the recent Bangladesh tragedy that killed more than 500 garment workers when the Rana Plaza factory complex collapsed. These factories were owned and operated by contractors, and the dead employees were not directly on your payrolls. It is the owners who put those lives at risk, and the corrupt, ineffectual government that failed to flag shoddy construction. Halfway around the world, how could you have known?

There’s an answer to that non-rhetorical question: Because it was your responsibility to know. People are sewing goods for you? It behooves you to have and enforce standards, period. Those victims were just as much working for you as the sales clerks at the local mall, and you owed it to them, at the barest minimum, to certify safe working conditions. You can outsource manufacturing, but you cannot outsource morality.

And you also can’t outsource backlash. Here it comes.

@angela_joya MT @JanoCharbel Companies guilty of killing and injuring #Bangladesh workers: #Benetton#ChildrensPlace, #Loblaws#Mango#Primark & #Walmart

Blonde_Phantom @Blonde_Phantom #Bangladesh business leader points finger at western retailers huff.to/18wwwer#mango#h&m #primark#kik#benetton & many more...

martina sorco @martinasorco United horrors of Benetton #Bangladesh 

Most of the brands tied to the collapsed complex have pledged financial aid to survivors and to the injured. Whether this bespeaks corporate conscience or cynical crisis management is something we cannot know. What we can know is that for the victims and for brand reputation those efforts will be vastly too little, tragically too late.  What Foxxcon hinted at, Rana Plaza has made all too clear.

Times have changed. There is no hiding from your failures. If you cannot motivate yourself with the mere calculus of right and wrong, think about the value of your reputation. Remember Benetton, which having postured insufferably for 20 years as holier than thou, is now consigned to worldwide opprobrium.

Remember Benetton, and remember Bangladesh.

 

 

 

 

5 comments about "There Is No Place To Hide ".
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  1. Patrick Di Chiro from THUNDER FACTORY / Di Chiro, May 6, 2013 at 10:31 a.m.

    "Those victims were just as much working for you as the sales clerks at the local mall, and you owed it to them, at the barest minimum, to certify safe working conditions. You can outsource manufacturing, but you cannot outsource morality."

    Bob, we can only hope that these businesses get that powerful message. I have my doubts. That said, even Apple (albeit only in the post-Jobs era) was sufficiently shamed to start doing something about its supply chain moral blindness.

    Years ago when I was at a PR agency in NYC Reebok was a major client. At the time, the athletic shoe companies like Reebok and Nike were grappling with the same problems of sub-standard and unsafe working conditions and pitifully low wages for the workers at the contract manufacturing facilities in Asia that made their shoes.

    Nike, in its typically arrogant way, refused to change the working conditions or even admit there was a problem. Reebok, on the other hand, realized (and this was long before the social media era) that a world where supply chains were global also had global consumers who actually cared about the welfare of their fellow human beings continents away. Reebok became a leader in advancing humane labor standards and Nike remained defiantly unwilling to change until the shame became too great even for the stubborn Phil Knight. Nike finally made labor changes, but had to be dragged there kicking and screaming.

    The Bangladesh strategy is just the latest in this ongoing story. But, as you point out so well, the big difference today is the power of digital technology to shed light on these issues, and social media to empower people to engage about them and take action. Don't forget, the Arab Spring was sparked in part by a simple Facebook page.

    Keep posting these important truths, Bob. Maybe businesses will even listen eventually.

  2. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, May 6, 2013 at 11:42 a.m.

    Suppose a company like Reebok suffered a tragedy despite its best efforts to police suppliers halfway around the world. Wouldn't it be a case of tarred-by-the-same-brush? Sanctimony aside, no company can escape the facile outcry of critics who never made a payroll or got extorted by a union of unskilled workers. Especially when they still think the Arab Spring made things better for ordinary citizens in those countries.

  3. Edmund Singleton from Winstion Communications, May 6, 2013 at 12:01 p.m.

    Wow, I am speechless so I will just write amen a thousand times amen...

  4. Chuck Lantz from 2007ac.com, 2017ac.com network, May 6, 2013 at 5:53 p.m.

    "No place to hide" is the perfect description. There is absolutely no excuse for these types of conditions, at any level of their manufacturing process, besides pure greed. Local control and reliable, honest, on-site oversight by the parent company is the very least that should be required, if not legally then at least morally.

  5. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, May 6, 2013 at 6:06 p.m.

    Great column, Bob.
    Assuming "column" is not archaic

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