By Diana d’Ambra
As we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream speech”, many commentators have stepped back and observed how far we have come as well as how far we have to go. But I would like to focus on how a society changes. How do we change our values? How do we change what is important or acceptable? Fifty years ago, it was acceptable to not serve Blacks in a restaurant. Or refer to Blacks by a commonly used derogatory word that can no longer be written or spoken in public, now referred to as the “n” word. How did that change occur?
Another example here is smoking. Twenty years ago, people smoked at their office desks. Now they are barely permitted to smoke outside the office building. The number of smokers has decreased dramatically over time. The social acceptability of smoking has waned. Many personal ads specify “no smokers” in a way that other traits would not be so distinctly omitted. This change did not occur overnight, nor was it linear, but it did occur and change the way we think about smoking.
Some of the change reflects new laws, but legality is often a laggard in social movements, catching up with the movement, not leading it although both bounce off of each other. The media reports on it and with the rise of the Internet, IM’ing, Facebook and social media in general, this is an increasingly important factor.
So, how do we as a society or as a person determine whether it is acceptable to us to buy, especially as consumers?
The news has been abuzz with all aspects of sustainable and responsible sourcing, although sometimes not broached as such. But it is having an impact on how people think about buying and sourcing.
The fallout from the Bangladeshi factory fire continues although at a slower cadence. The ability of Bangladesh to respond effectively through legislation as well as the concurrent cultural and financial change is still being followed and reported on. There is increased emphasis and push for sustainable sourcing, which not only may improve firm’s bottom lines but provide a market differentiator to consumers increasingly aware of the power of their purchase. And as the media more consistently reports on sustainability and sourcing issues, reputation is of importance too.
Recently, the role of corporate responsibility towards the environment has expanded to not just safe working conditions but fair and equitable pay.. Note, this is not necessarily “legal” boundaries but ethical and moral ones. Just in the past few weeks, in the United States, hundreds of fast food workers across the country are walking off their jobs to demand higher wages.
But the complexity of these issues as well as their interaction can hardly be understated. A firm can have a stellar record or reputation in one field, such as sustainable supply chain sourcing, while it is under pressure for hiring at and paying lower, but legally permitted wages.
As we as a society gathers more information and change our behavior accordingly, what will we purchase? What will be acceptable? How will we judge it? What will we be willing to pay for it? What is our personal and moral judgment?
Diana d’Ambra, President of the Global Sourcing Council, is a consultant at Cortelyou Consulting. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org