Professor Jem Bendell

notes from a strategist and educator on social and organisational change

Posts Tagged ‘luxury’

My talks in October

Posted by jembendell on September 29, 2012

This October, I will be speaking at the following events:

Singapore, on 4th, at Syinc, evening talk on the future of money

Crete, Greece, 10th and 11th, at ESA, 2 day workshop on alternative exchange and currency systems

Barcelona, Spain, on 19th, at Future Economy, a talk on the future of luxury and brands

Lancaster, UK, 31st, at University of Cumbria, with Thomas Greco on alternative exchange and currency systems

Posted in Talks | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Fashionably Hated: on social change, media and the self

Posted by jembendell on August 6, 2011

I thought my mum and dad, and my colleagues’ family and friends, might be proud. It would be the 2nd time a report I co-wrote appeared in the Financial Times. The last one was Deeper Luxury, which 3 years ago helped kick off more engagement in CSR by some luxury brands. The new report is on jewellery, and the result of 18 months work, mostly pro bono by myself and my dedicated and inspirational colleague Ian Doyle. But I haven’t sent my relatives the FT link. The article patronised us, with arguments that our co-publishers Fair Jewelry Action have debunked point by point. Fortunately the report has been well-received in the industry press, with Diamonds.net doing a succinct overview.

When I read the FT article I was surprised. Surprised at how much I laughed! I thought I cared about being respected. We all do a bit, don’t we? But reading it seemed cathartic. For some years now, with my colleagues at Lifeworth Consulting, we have been trying to persuade some in the industry to be more ambitious in their responsible enterprise goals. We have got somewhere with some brands, but mostly its the start ups who get it and they don’t have funds to pay for our help. Managers from the big brands, however, often depress me with their fancy lunches, seminars and excuses. We offered this study for free to help those in larger firms who really want to lead, and we got trashed.

I recall the enlightened perspective of Chris Marsden when he worked at BP in the 1990s: “if Greenpeace didn’t exist Id have to invent it.” Not that we are Greenpeace – our report is far too boring, as its for industry and focuses on giving specific advice on business strategy. I suppose for every Chris Marsden there are a thousand corporate cogs. There are many proud cowards in luxury brand management.

A lesson I see for myself and anyone who works in social change within a professional context is to never confuse being respectful with being respected. To respect others and hear them out, understand their situation, is key, but to worry about being respected is imprisoning. We need more people in social change who don’t give a xxxx about being disliked and will risk their own situations to seek and then live by their unfolding truths. Its this sense of liberation that made we want to share experience here. Its important because there are now so many events of the eco-chattering classes about how to achieve systemic change, from Tallberg to Davos and beyond. By giving the mic to those with status they perpetuate the idea that those having a high status role have an insight rather than an affliction, and that calling for bigger changes is a means of change rather a way to let off steam by blaming others and situations before returning to normal life. Instead, we have to risk our acceptability, our respectability, our livelihoods, and the expectations of our families, in our daily lives at work, if we are to really explore how we can create systemic change.

But the FT article also made me realise something about journalism today. Real investigative journalism is disappearing from the mainstream press. I don’t mean the kind of illegal snooping on people to get gossip to print in tabloids, that has caused a lot of trouble in the UK just recently. I mean proper investigative journalism where issues of public importance are looked at in detail. Nick Davies did that at the Guardian to expose the phone hacking scandal, so it still exists, but is rare. The system of mainstream journalism, where owners want profits, desire happy (luxury brand) advertisers, and journalists need access to brands, and to pump out stories quickly to develop their online traffic for new ad revenue, means that the time and resources for investigative reporting have been crushed. Research has even found that many (mostly freelance) fashion journalists are also on the payrolls of PR firms and individual brands.

In that context its tough for a fashion journalist like Vanessa Friedman to write about our 58 page study one minute, and speculate on the Duchess of Cambridge’s dresses the next. The absence of investigative journalism is so accepted now that journalists can even complain about others not investigating enough, such as Vanessa complaining we didnt investigate further about Burmese rubies, without spotting the irony. Why don’t the journalists look into it?

INSEAD Professor Mark Lee Hunter told me the other day that investigative journalism is so undermined by the economics of media right now that non-traditional journalists, from bloggers and NGOs, will have to develop the skills of investigative reporting if we are to maintain some effective public discourse. He has produced a handbook with UNESCO to help. Perhaps hybrid models of media, where mainstream publications work with investigative bloggers, helping to guide and ensure their approach and credibility, will be one way of coping. What Jo Confino and colleagues are doing at Guardian Sustainable Business could be one indicator of such a situation. Other publishers may prefer to pretend they have it all under control and can produce credible articles without resources. Such pride will eventually turn them into PR agents’ megaphones.

These changes are bigger than any one person. Some may get all self-righteous about individuals at News of the World. But rather than single out individuals, we need to push for reforms in media ownership rules, so that there is diversity of owners as well as organisational types, with not-for-profit and community media having important roles to play.

We all get influenced by our colleagues and the day to day work. For instance, at Lifeworth Consulting, our desire to be helpful to people leading change in the industry may have blinded us somewhat. Rather than further investigating the issue of Burmese rubies, which was not our aim, or within our capability, when we found evidence that the EU embargo might be being broken, we should have referred this particular matter to law enforcement. Therefore I have started making the relevant enquiries about which parts of law enforcement should be informed.

So on reflection it is good that Vanessa Friedman paid the report some attention, despite the flaws we see in her article. I’m told the key thing in fashion journalism is you must not be ignored. In the rough and tumble of somewhat gossipy and cutting reporting: what doesn’t kill you… makes you more fashionable. So my real regret is that Vanessa didn’t speculate on what suit I might be wearing at my next speech.

If you are in the industry, or write about it, please read our report ‘Uplifting The Earth: The Ethical Performance of Luxury Jewellery Brands’

Posted in Academia and Research, Corporations, Lifeworth, Media, Reports, Sustainable Development | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The UN and Fashion – its a new trend

Posted by jembendell on December 29, 2009

My work in the last few years on sustainable luxury seemed to some to be a bit of a break with my more development and international policy focus, albeit on corporate responsibility. I sought to promote sustainable luxury for a range of reasons, but one was to leverage high end brands to help make sustainability sexy in urban middle class Asia as fast as possible. NGOs can’t do that. Gucci could. Well, it seems the wave of eco cool is sweeping China’s youth, even if not their Copehagen delegation.

This new work led me in new and unusual directions, even stepping out on a cat walk, at an eco fashion show in Hong Kong run by EcoChic Fashions, in October 08. But as I still lived in Geneva and was working on finishing a couple of projects with UNRISD and UNSSC, the UN was still in my mind. Earlier that year, by Lac Leman, Louise Barber of the UNOG had told me that 2009 was to be the international year of natural fibres (yes, really, it was), and 2010 the international year of biodiversity. So, I mused, why not hold an eco fashion show at the UN, to promote these ideas, and encourage industry engagement? And, of course, have the fun of seeing a cat walk in the middle of the UN. I connected her, Eduardo Escobedo at UNCTAD, and Christina Dean at Green2Greener, and with their dedicated colleagues, the event is now upon us.  And.. you can even attend! If you register. See below.

Perhaps international cooperation could become the new fashion?! It may not seem like that after COP15, but in light of that intergovernmental impasse, the more innovative ways the UN can catalyse change the better!

Redefining Sustainability in the International Agenda: Inspiring Greater Engagement in Biodiversity Issues

January 20–21, 2010

Room XIX – Palais des Nations, UN

Geneva, Switzerland

UNCTAD and Green2greener invite you  to come and join the more than 500 prominent figures from government, international organizations, and industry as they meet in Geneva on 20-21 January to call for action against the rapid loss of the world’s biodiversity.

This timely seminar will provide a collaborative platform to discuss the need to redefine sustainability. Through the viewpoint of the fashion and luxury industries, participants will gain a unique insight into the role that governments, businesses, and consumers can play in supporting biodiversity conservation and the sustainable use of natural resources.

Through interactive panel discussions and in-depth case studies, the 1.5 day seminar will cover issues such as

·         Redefining Sustainability: Why Biodiversity and Why Now?

·         How to Implement a Successful Sustainability Strategy

·         Educating and Engaging Consumers in Biodiversity Issues

·         The Rise of the Ethical Consumer and Eco-Fashion in the Mass Market

·         Luxury Brands as Sustainable Role Models

·         Environmental Traceability, Accountability and Certification

·         The Role of the Creative Industries in Developing Economies

·         The Role of Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships

·         Paving the road towards the CBD COP 10 and the revision of the International Biodiversity Targets.

Confirmed participants include representatives from business, international organizations, government, media and NGOs such as:

·            Ahmed Djoghlaf, Executive Secretary, Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)

·            Willen Wijnstekers, Secretary-General, Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES)

·            Dermot Rowan, Managing Director, Orla Kiely

·            Burak Cakmak, Director CSR, Gucci Group

·            Giulia Di Tommaso, Director of Legal Policy and International Relations, Unilever

·            Jean-Fraçois Fournon, Global Creative Director, Saatchi & Saatchi Simko

·            Hans Steisslinger, Head R&D Natural Cosmetics, Weleda Group AG

·            Peter Ingwersen, Founder, Noir

·            Tamsin Blanchard, Style Director, The Telegraph Magazine

·            Sarah Ratty, Founder and CEO, Ciel

·            Alphadi, President & Founder, Festival International de la Mode Africaine

·            Jean-Luc Ansel, Director General, Cosmetic Valley

·            Isabel Berz, Director Fashion School, Istituto Europea di Design Madrid

·            Kate Dillon, Model and M.P.A. in international development

·            Tamsin LeJeune, Founder, Ethical Fashion Forum

·            Erin O’Conner, Model

·            Summer Rayne Oaks, Model and Sustainability Strategist, SRO

and many others….

This must-attend event has been co-organised by United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and Hong Kong charity Green2greener as part of the 2010 International Year of Biodiversity.

All activities will take place in Room XIX in the Palais des Nations (E-Building, third floor).

Pre-registration for the seminar is essential.

For further information, please contact Eduardo Escobedo at +41 22 917 5607 or by email eduardo.escobedo@unctad.org or visit http://www.unctad.org

Posted in Geneva, Sustainable Development, United Nations | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Deepening Luxury in Delhi

Posted by jembendell on April 4, 2009

Im just about to leave India after an amazing month. The International Herald Tribune conference last week was inspiring, and for me very affirming. Feedback from Christian Blanckaert, Laurent Claquin, Suzy Menkes and Anna Zegna, among others, about the impact of the report Deeper Luxury on their own work was wonderful to hear. Theyre all doing what they can to promote sustainable luxury. The transcript of my presentation follows. I was taking a bit of a risk, a Britisher going to India and leading an audience in a group reflection/meditation, but the reaction was positive (or those with a negative reaction were too polite to tell me!).

To follow up I wrote a piece in the local business paper, and an article in NYT and IHT mentions the talk.

Deeper Luxury, Presentation by Jem Bendell at the International Herald Tribune conference on Sustainable Luxury, Imperial Hotel, Delhi, India, March 26th 2009.

“Despite the difficulties, the choice of India and of sustainable luxury as the conference theme now has a feeling of serendipity about it, doesn’t it?

Since the IHT made their bold choice, we have seen dramatic events, both here and abroad. What does an economic collapse and a terrorist attack have to do with sustainable luxury? If sustainability is about how we live our lives and what we work for, then they are very relevant, because we must employ our best talents to make our world a better place, whatever our line of work.

India is probably the richest country in the world, in the truest sense of the word rich. Yet it is one beset by massive social and environmental challenges. Coming here to collectively imagine what luxury and sustainability might offer each other, is as important now as it ever was. So thank you IHT for organising what could be a watershed in the luxury industry, and perhaps, if we make it so, an important moment in the sustainability movement.

I’m here because of a report I produced in 2007 for the environmental group WWF. In Deeper Luxury, we mapped out the sustainability challenge and the reasons why luxury brands could do a lot more, ranked companies and provided some examples and tips, as well as a charter for responsible brand endorsement by celebrities. The report took off around the world. I even ended up in Tatler; a dubious indicator of success for an environmentalist. But today I wont go into the report. Instead I’ll say some things about the heart and the head of sustainable luxury management in light of rapid changes. I hope to allay any lingering doubts you may have about sustainability being the future of luxury, rather than just a passing fad.

At its most basic sustainability is about people being in harmony with nature, eachother and ourselves. As our societies have developed, our work and ways of living have had both a positive and negative impact on that harmony. You have likely heard that before. But right now I’d like us to take a moment to sense what restoring that harmony could feel like. You may find it helpful if you close your eyes for the next few moments.

So, now with you eyes shut, try to recall a moment when you think you won an argument, or clinched a deal, or got promoted. Think of how it felt.

Next, try to recall a moment when you were in nature, perhaps looking at a sunset, or where you completely lost yourself in the moment of something you enjoy doing. Try to taste that feeling.

Now contrast it with the first – the feeling generated within you when you won out on something.

Consider whether that first feeling is one of self-promotion – a worldly feeling, while the second feeling comes from your soul.

This is a reflection recommended to us by Anthony De Mello, a Jesuit priest who hailed from Mumbai, and integrated Eastern and Western philosophies.

He says the worldly feelings are not really natural. I quote “they were invented by your society and your culture to make you productive and to make you controllable. These feelings do not produce the nourishment and happiness that is produced when one contemplates nature or enjoys the company of one’s friends or one’s work. They were meant to provide thrills, excitement – and emptiness.”

He suggests we are weighed down by these worldly motivations for approval, popularity, and power. He is suggesting that, actually, less can be more, and “I” can become “we”. That is also a sustainability message. Because sustainability is not so much a challenge out there, but in here. It comes down to how conscious we are in our work. A sustainable luxury industry will flow from a sustainable luxury profession of people inspired by creating things and experiences that generate well-being for everyone involved, and restoring the biological diversity and balance of our planet.

Fear often holds us back from living and working in full consciousness. In our work on corporate responsibility in the luxury sector, there is a nagging fear that there is something fundamentally contradictory between luxury and sustainability. Some fear that we cant do that much, particularly given the current economic situation and the limited awareness of consumers in key growth markets.

One way to calm that fear, is to realise how greater social and environmental responsibility can often be a cost saver and a driver of innovation. That is what we sought to do in the WWF report. This morning I want to go further, and address four conundrums facing the industry that can hold us back from engaging fully, soulfully, in sustainability. So far I’ve only heard them expressed in quiet conversation by people who are aware of the challenge but not sure of how this sector can really deliver.

In hearing reassurances about the financial sustainability of brands and luxury groups we have been reminded of the strength of the Asian market. Their economies are still growing, middle classes expanding, and fashion consciousness rising. The difficulty I’ve been told about by some executives is that such consumers are not aware of social and environmental aspects of brands and don’t really care. In the past year, new market research points to a wave of environmental awareness sweeping through Asia.

Research done by some WPP agencies, found that Chinese consumers now see the environment as a higher priority than do their US and UK counterparts. 69 percent of the Chinese respondents said that they expected to spend more on environmentally friendly products in the coming year.

The graph on the screen is from the French agency IFOP, showing levels of concern assessed in June last year. It also shows emerging market consumers concerns are higher in Brazil, China and India. More unpacking and interrogating of the nature of this concern is required to gauge its relevance for corporate strategy, but it shows the awareness is now there.

Consumer awareness takes time to translate into consumer behaviour, because we cant chose what doesn’t exist, or behave differently when we are unclear about our options. As the connections are made between what we buy and the environment we live in, the commercial implications are huge. So it is time to empower the consumer with the right information and better choices. So the first conundrum is not so real.

At a global level some analysts say the world has lost almost half its wealth since September. The crisis is real and scary. As someone running a small consultancy, we have lost one major client already. My company also works on sustainable finance, and worked on a project which consulted with finance professionals in over dozen countries. The insight from this is that the current crisis is not something that will be “got through” before a return to “normal”. Instead, it marks a major shift in global power. At root it is a Western financial crisis. The impacts will not only be financial, but also cultural, impacting on the status of the West, and on consumer culture. The implications for luxury are therefore deeper than our immediate concerns about profit and loss.

Many of us here work in enterprises that are the very best at what we do, whether that’s watch making, boat building, resort management, and so on. The crafts themselves may be excellent, and the sincerity and quality discussed yesterday morning very real. But what groups us together in this room as “luxury” is not so much that excellence, but consumer perceptions of what “luxury” means and our need to understand how to continue to appeal to the consumer of “luxury” as much as the consumer of our particular product or service. If there ever was such a thing as a luxury industry, then it is now endangered, because of the economic situation. More people are thinking twice about any discretionary spending. They are questioning the true value of what they buy, and how it appears to others at a time of increasing hardship. The ability and motivation to buy what is, to some, unnecessarily expensive, will therefore decline. In such a context, luxury must become something meaningful and lasting, providing the most enduring products and experiences to consumers.

Therefore the economic crisis is ushering in a fundamental change in world power and consumer values that moves social and environmental excellence from an option to a category-defining dimension of luxury brands.

The social legitimacy of luxury becomes more challenging in situations of extreme inequality and absolute poverty. Within sustainability there is a principle of fairness and social equity. Some people consider that luxury involves excess, so it could never be moral while there is poverty. That’s quite a conundrum.

If you visit the Taj Mahal this weekend you will not be that far from the border with Madhya Pradesh. If you travel on, UNICEF says that in some villages 6 out of every 10 children you will see are malnourished, like these children, pictured a few months ago.

It’s natural to block out this other reality as we enjoy our own privilege. Because many of us dont know what to do about it.

The two world’s collided last week when the two Slumdog child actors from Mumbai’s slums fronted a fashion show. The success and subject matter of the Slumdog film has raised debates about poverty and child protection, and the role and responsibility of the creative industries, like film. One response to this situation is charity. Designers Ashima and Leena announced last week that a new Jai Ho Foundation will support children like Rubina and Azahruddin.

If done well, charity can help. But it rarely addresses root causes. In my 10 years as a consultant to the UN on development issues I have been constantly reminded of one thing. People with low incomes do not want our charity, but their dignity and opportunity – which basically means good education, a safe environment and decent work. Just like ourselves, no one appreciates pity. But solidarity and support is always welcome.

The economy of Madyha Pradesh has been booming but it doesnt trickle down well unless you have responsible businesses buying from responsible businesses. Therefore the best way to reduce inequality and poverty is for the products and services we make to provide decent work throughout the value chain.

To illustrate I’ll mention one breakthrough British luxury brand. For several years jeweller and anthropologist Pippa Small has been designing jewellery made by fair trade groups. Her range for Nicole Fahri’s store in New Bond Street is produced by a group of slum-dwellers in Nairobi using discarded brass and recycled glass. The product line is helping ensure the workers’ children go to school, has funded a crèche, is teaching them computing skills, and shows them how to run a business. Pippa believes the reason the Farhi range sells so well is, I quote, “because people feel good wearing jewellery that is doing some good, as opposed to exploiting people”. But she also notes that, I quote again, “buyers in big stores often don’t get it. They think that jewellery made in slums equals something horrible and dirty, rather than seeing that giving people skills offers them an opportunity to get out of there.”

I was pleased to find out last night that there are some similar innovations occuring in the high end fashion sector here in India. The brand Bombay Electric are working with WomenWeave, to source materials from women working in villages, so that high end fashion can promote social development.

So we need not ignore. We need not feel guilty. Neither actually helps. Instead, the conundrum can be resolved if luxury comes to embody a fullness of our ability to live in solidarity with everyone we influence. Its ambitious. But are luxury brands not always ambitious?

The last conundrum I’ll explore here is sustainable consumption. Luxury brands are promoting consumerism in countries at a time when we need to reduce consumption in order to avert a climate catastrophe.

We only have one planet don’t we. Yet some aspire to live as if we have 5. If everyone lived like Americans we would need 5 planets of biological resources to support us. But it’s not simply a Western binge. Estimates put Malaysia at 4 planet lifestyles, Dubai at 10. Some research suggests the Indian middle classes now have a carbon footprint higher than the average Briton. The impacts are profound. For thousands of years the river Ganges has been revered. The Himalayan glacier that feeds it is shrinking by 40 meters a year, meaning it could disappear altogether in 20 years, and with it the Ganges in the dry season. Water is precious, to some it can be sacred. The shirts on our backs each took a few thousand litres of water to create. If we cherished them more, we would use less water. As well as less energy and other resources. To cut carbon emissions we have to reduce our consumption of resources. We only have about 10 years to transform our development so we don’t tip the world into catastrophic climate change. If you don’t believe it, you’ve been living in a bubble, and need to read your Herald Tribune.

Some of us are here to work out how better to sell Western brands into this highly complex market. Key to that is promoting a consumer fashion culture in a country where style traditions are centuries old and slow to change. Yet we know our world can’t cope with another billion embracing unbridled consumerism and a throwaway society. It would be an epic tragedy for some of our brightest minds to work on that, at a time when we need their talent to create a sustainable future.

What’s the answer? Become the best. Offer the best environmental option. Luxury brands have the margin and mandate to create the most environmentally friendly products and services. Yesterday Anna Zegna gave you some real examples, as will Stella in a moment. The great thing about luxury brands is that the way consumers relate to them actually prefigures the way we need consumers to relate to all their products. To look after them, to repair them, to see them as becoming vintage not garbage.

So let’s not be pale green, seeking to reduce our environmental impact a little to protect our reputation. That would be understandable, but it wouldn’t be real luxury. Instead, lets seek to create products and services that are actually environmentally restorative. So that by buying them people help the environment. One example is the UN’s Biotrade initiative, which is working with brands to develop skins and other products that create new revenues to pay for the conservation of species and their ecosystems.

Once we have created environmentally restorative products and services, then lets integrate that into the marketing and advertising of them in new markets, to help guide that wave of environmental awareness into more beneficial environmental behaviours. We have the power to shape aspirations and can use it wisely.

My intention in addressing these issues has been to release possible blockages to you being in flow in your your work and life. Because sustainability must start with us.

I am here because I believe that luxury can lead, not lag, in the transition to a fair and sustainable world. Its designers, entrepreneurs and executives can become part of what I term in my new book, The Corporate Responsibility Movement – A movement that is pursuing a transition to a fair and sustainable economy through new approaches to enterprise.

Together with the luxury brands Timothy Han and EcoBoudoir, as well as the UN Biotrade initiative, and luxury marketing expert Marco Bevolo, we are creating an association to support this transition. The Authentic Luxury Association gives you the opportunity to become an expert in the strategic importance of social and environmental excellence, as well as its operational implications. Already over 200 luxury professionals have joined our online network, which you can find at authenticluxury.net

We need not be confounded by this time of global stress, but work towards a new form of luxury that embodies what is personally, socially and environmentally the best of human creativity. The reflection from the late Anthony de Mello helps us see that at this time of strife, our world needs from us simply what we need for ourselves: o be authentic, soulful and purposeful. So thank you, for being, simply, you.”

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO DISCUSS THE IDEAS HERE, OR ENGAGE, PLEASE VISIT WWW.AUTHENTICLUXURY.NET

Links to the video of the talk will be posted there.

Posted in ALN, Corporations, Lifeworth, Spirit?, Sustainable Development, Talks, WWF | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Issues Arising for Corporate Responsibility due to International Developments

Posted by jembendell on November 5, 2008

Stepping back from the day to day, we should at times ask what is happening in the world of corporate responsibility and corporate sustainability, as a field of interest, and to the voluntary pursuit of responsible or sustainable behaviour by business people? To answer that we can try to consider what is happening in the worlds of business and society more broadly.

In 2008 we are experiencing the same megatrends that have made this area of interest more important in the last 15 years: continuing challenges with our environment, increasing inequalities, persistent poverty and injustices, and a continuing situation where economic globalisation has given some corporations more power in relation to governments and communities, but where people also have new opportunities to connect and to pursue business for social purposes. But this year three developments are becoming clearer that are particularly interesting for how the field of corporate responsibility (CR) may develop:

  • The Financial Crisis
  • The “Rise of the Rest”
  • Rising environmental awareness across the South

Implications of the financial crisis

The stock market is crashing around the world, exchange rates are volatile, and credit is expensive or unavailable, there is recession in the West, and a slowing rate growth in the rest of the world. Therefore people are beginning to ask the following questions:

  • Is CSR recession proof? Meaning: is the voluntary pursuit of responsible business going to suffer when budgets are squeezed. Is CSR a choice? Articles in blogs and magazines are asking about that.
  • Has most responsible business activity been irrelevant, beside the point, not focused on the basic issues of governance and economic systems? This was asked in 2001 after Enron collapse, and is being asked again, this time also in terms of the work on socially responsible finance and investment.
  • Will people demand deep reform of the financial system, and therefore perhaps the wider economic system? The questions about executive pay are now mainstream. Litigation is beginning. People are becoming aware of the licence to print money that is given to banks and thus their shareholders and employees that is enshrined in a monetary system based on the issuing of debt by private banks.
  • Will values change? As people question the unrestrained pursuit of financial self interest, and as people fall on hard times, will people think again about themselves and their neighbours?
  • Will neoliberal ideology around deregulation and market approaches be fractured and new ideas emerge about managing capitalism and if so how will voluntary corporate responsibility efforts relate to that?

Implications of the “Rise of the Rest”

The current financial crisis is hitting the whole world, but it originates in the late industrial countries we call “the West” and is having a greater impact on both their financial systems and real economies, while also undermining the basis of the West’s levels of power and consumption in recent decades – cheap credit. Many nations in the Middle East and Asia have huge reserves and are now investing this through Sovereign Wealth Funds. The fundamentals of many Asian economies remain strong. The growing role of non-Western companies around the world, in influencing the lives of workers, communities and their environments, is shaping the future landscape of corporate responsibility challenges and initiatives. Therefore some people are beginning to ask the following questions, albeit not the mainstream CSR practitioners, most of whom are yet to awaken to the implications of these shifts:

  • Will non-Western companies experience the same pressures for adopting voluntary corporate responsibility as Western companies have in recent years?
  • Will investors and consumers in non-Western countries become aware of what is done throughout the value chains of the products and services they benefit from, will they care, and will they be able to express that in behavioural change?
  • Will managers in non-Western companies see it more as government’s role to manage social and environmental issues, not a part of their own work as globally responsible business leaders?
  • Will voluntary corporate responsibility continue to be seen as a Western import by many non Western business leaders, and thus seen as doing whats required by Western consumers rather than emerging from your own community’s values? If so, what might happen if the West becomes less important to their businesses?
  • Will the Sovereign Wealth Funds compound problems with disengaged bottom-line focused share ownership, rather than active responsible investment, due to political pressure not to engage with the management of the companies they invest in?
  • Will new initiatives emerge from the rest of the world that are persuing values through the private sector in ways that might affect the lives of workers and communities in the West and how will the West react to that, especially if the values are culturally specific?
  • Will the rhetorical power of universal principles relating to human rights and dignity that are enshrined in conventions of the United Nations become less authorative if that organisation is increasingly challenged as an anachronism of the World War II settlement? How might moral power on the global scene evolve?
  • As Western philanthropy wanes, due to the stock market crash, and Eastern and Southern philanthropy grows, what are the implications for civil society organisations, everywhere, and at the international level? In turn, what are the implications for the way civil society shapes the field of corporate responsibility? Will different agendas begin to be favoured over others by the new philanthropy? How could the new philanthropists of Asia be encouraged to learn from the history of efforts at social change and play a useful social purpose, internationally?

Rising environmental awareness in Asia and ‘South’

Many people working on corporate responsibility have assumed that the drivers for voluntary responsible business are higher in the UK and Northern Europe than Southern or Eastern Europe, and higher than in North America, and in turn higher than in the rest of the world. This is largely put down to the levels of consumers and investor awareness, free media, and sizeable middle classes with disposable incomes, and thus with a level of discretion in their consumption and employment, as well as a reasonable level of philanthropy to support a civil society. People in the West and in the rest of the world have often articulated aspects of that view, to say that contemporary voluntary responsibility is a Western originated phenomenon. This seemed intuitive, but the evidence to back up this view was not systematically gathered. In 2008 some market research agencies, including WPP and IFOP did global studies on environmental awareness and consumer behaviour, and found that levels of concern about the environment are actually higher in parts of Asia, particularly in China, than in parts of Europe or in the USA. They also found higher levels of concern about the environment in Asia, when purchasing products. This is a major finding, and raises a number of questions, which are not being asked yet because not many people know about this data and are operating on the basis of a false assumption of a lack of interest in environmental issues:

  • Is evidence of green consumer awareness across Asia and the South the product of poor research, rather than a real situation?
  • If it is real, is this a new phenomenon and why is it happening?
  • If it is real, does it stem from similar values to environmental consumer concern in the West, or from something else?
  • Is this a widespread phenomenon and an early sign of a turning away from the major commercialisation of cultures in Asia and the rest of the world in the past decades?
  • Could the pace of eco-modernisation in Asia be faster than in the West due to the stronger role of government in society?
  • Are companies ready to provide the necessary environmentally preferable alternatives to help this awareness become behavioural change?
  • Will the institutions to watch out for and punish greenwash be put in place fast enough to enable this new awareness to lead to effective behavioural change, rather than mistaken understandings and eventual disenchantment due to corporate greenwash?
  • Could this wave of awareness lead to a wave of eco-innovation in Asia that could help solve some of the worlds resource and energy challenges, and how could that be supported?

In 2008 I have spent many months in Asia, meeting with people in the marketing and financial sectors, as well as the broader corporate responsibility arena, and the budding philanthropy sector, to develop some insights into these underlying trends that I believe will shape the future of business in society.

Some of the questions relating to the financial crisis I discuss in my new book “The Corporate Responsibility Movement” and in the forthcoming issue 31 of the Journal of Corporate Citizenship. In The Lifeworth Annual Review of 2008, to be published in late January, we will discuss all of these issues in further detail. In advance of that I’d welcome any thoughts on these issues…

I’m also looking forward to discussing these issues at the first Global Social Innovation Forum in Singapore in November. If you are interested in going, request an invite by mentioning my name to Erin Frey <erinfrey@socialinnovationpark.org>

Posted in Academia and Research, Corporations, Sustainable Development | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

Shopping is not complete without LIFE

Posted by jembendell on January 14, 2008

“What are you made of?” From London to Little India, Rome to Orchard Road, we are asked that question by stars of sport and screen as they peer from billboards and magazines. The watch company TAG Heuer invites us to feel that wearing their brand provides the answer: you are made of something strong, successful, and beautiful. Look up and you can see that George Clooney now chooses Omega, along with Actresses Ivy Lee and Kym Ng, or that Scarlett Johannson wears Chopard, amongst the various fashion choices of the rich and famous. Luxury brands sell status. They are usually the highest-priced and highest-quality item in any product or service category and provide the consumer with an elite experience or sense of prestige. Watches, jewelery, high-specification interiors, high fashion, exclusive resorts and restaurants are considered luxury items, although luxury is increasingly understood in a personal way, as an enjoyable and rare experience for a particular individual.

Many of us feel worth it – so much so that the luxury business is worth about 150 billion dollars per annum. Working closely with global celebrities and spending billions on advertising, iconic brands like Chanel, Dior, Prada and Cartier have become a global language of luxury logos, influencing what people admire and aspire to worldwide. As old ways of marking social status in Asia are declining, so a new social order defined by luxury brands is taking hold, argues Radha Chadha, author of ‘The Cult of the Luxury Brand’. In today’s Asia you are what you wear, she quips. Consequently Asia is a focus for significant sales growth. Already in Tokyo, 94% of women in their 20s own a Louis Vuitton bag. Hong Kong hosts more Gucci and Hermès stores than New York or Paris, while China’s luxury market is growing so fast that in six years it will become the world’s largest. Singapore has long been a thriving market for high-end brands, due to its level of development, international airport, and consumer culture. As former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong once remarked, for Singaporeans, “life is not complete without shopping.” Explaining the meaning of shopping in the Lion City, sociologist Chua Beng Huat writes that young professionals’ “deprivation from car-ownership, contextually the ultimate success symbol, has made their bodies the locus of consumption. Clothes and other body accessories have elevated status as expressions of ‘success’.”

… to read the rest of the article visit the new platform for Singapore’s emerging sustainability community: EcoSing

A shortened version of this article appeared in Singapore’s main tabloid, Today, on Thursday 17th January.

The full article will also appear in XL Magazine, February 2008

Ill be giving a talk on luxury at the Singapore Compact on 23rd January. More information on that is available here.

Posted in ALN, Singapore, Talks | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »