Conscious Consumption AS Social Activism
There is a collective myth of how America started out as a haven for religious freedom. While there’s some truth to that, in fact, America started as a business. The first settlers in Jamestown were commercially organized as The Virginia Company, and granted a charter in 1604 to exploit New World resources for the British Crown. The early settlers in New Amsterdam were Dutch merchants and traders who created what became New York. Even New England, the home of the Puritans who purportedly just wanted to practice their brand of Christianity in peace, was settled by entrepreneurs, printers, artisans, and small merchants. People who wanted to manage their own destinies like Benjamin Franklin managed their own enterprises, and ultimately managing a new country to be called the United States – a country undeniably built by the merchant class supporting an agricultural and trading economy. The 1773 Boston Tea Party was the culmination of several years of colonists reducing British tea purchases to protest “taxation without representation” which clearly is a commercial rallying cry that ultimatelylaunched a new American nation.
The World Business Academy has had the same Tripartite Mission since inception in 1986. The Academy is dedicated to catalyzing a shift in 1) the consciousness of existing business leadership; 2) future business leaders; and 3) the general consuming public, toward an understanding that we are all in this together, and that business must be a noble enterprise. Business is the most powerful institution in society so it must promote the common good. For many years, the Academy has taught the Quadruple Bottom line, and at last it is becoming widely accepted. What is that Quadruple Bottom Line? It’s looking equally at People, Planet, Profit, and Purpose.
The third part of our tripartite mission summarized above is to shift the consciousness of the “general consuming public” at large to put its money with its deeper values, knowing that when the public does this, business will immediately shift in response. As our values shift ever more quickly, business will shift ever more quickly to be able to continue to earn consumer dollars. You see, businesses in fact work for us! Sometimes this gets confused in our hyper consumerist economy since the gazillion dollar ad budgets are working nonstop to lure us into addiction to crass materialism and buying “name” brands, by convincing us that the latest, greatest thing just must be acquired! Lately though, even the biggest brands are starting to take notice.
For example, our weakened political institutions have abandoned their protective role for society in the current Administration’s supervision of business, so the Business Community is taking on more responsibility. For example, knowing Facebook has totally abdicated its responsibility as a powerful media company to regulate hate speech, racism, Russian “bots” or outright lies, the business community realized that Facebook would only act responsibly if it saw itself making less money promoting racist and Anti-American propaganda. So… 240 U.S. companies representing 60 percent of Facebook ad revenue agreed to boycott Facebook until it grew up and acted appropriately.
The #StopHateForProfit movement organized by a civil rights coalition, including the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the NAACP, as well as Color of Change, was joined by a number of very high profile brands, including Starbucks (which is Facebook’s sixth largest advertiser), Coca-Cola, Ford, Honda, Clorox, Patagonia and other outdoor brands, and Unilever, who all worked together to send Facebook a powerful message: Your profits will be reduced when you promote hate, bigotry, racism, antisemitism, and violence as a way to sell ads. For many of the companies pulling ads from Facebook, it’s part of an advertiser boycott in protest of what they say are the site’s failures to stop the spread of hate. These companies are not acting in a vacuum. They are responding to consumer and employee sentiments. They know that being associated with hateful speech will alienate their employees and their customers, and in a self-interested move, speaking out against Facebook signals their deeper values. This is a sign that conscious consumerism is having a moment.
Facebook is finally agreeing to start moderating some content by flagging it or removing it. Finally Facebook took the action in committing to removing some accounts that belong to extreme hate movements, or foreign governments, after saying that they would not moderate content themselves. The boycott members said, “This is too little.” And, although Zuckerberg is pretending to be “ok” with it all, the truth is that he spends every waking moment on the phone trying to cajole his advertisers. All to no avail. They want real change, not cosmetic pablum.
Public pressure in business has a long history, going back to the term “boycott” first being used in Ireland in 1880, when Captain Charles Boycott, a British land agent, attempted to evict a large number of poor tenants. A political action organization called the Land League convinced Boycott’s employees to walk out, and got the whole community to shun him. Shops and other establishments refused to do business with him, and the post refused his mail. He ultimately left Ireland humiliated.
The corollary to the BOYcott is the term BUYcott, where consumers shop brands and products that share their deeper values. The bottom line message is to vote with your dollar and don’t contribute a cent to companies whose values are out of alignment with your own.
I’ve put my life’s work into this mission, specifically seeing the business sector as a catalyst for change. In 2013, I co-founded JUST Capital which annually ranks the 1,000 largest publicly traded USA companies by how “JUST” they are. To determine what “JUST” behavior would look like to the average person, JUST Capital annually conducts thousands of interviews all across the country – over 100,000 at this point. By looking at the JUST Capital rankings published by FORBES and carried on our website, every consumer can tell which companies reflect their values so they can shop there… And which companies fall far short of JUST behavior.
Congratulations to all of us who’ve been speaking up with our dollars to get what we want from the Business community. It looks like the best companies are starting to get the message, and we will leave the rest behind.