The human value of choice

The human value of choice

Darren Eckford

Would you be happy to pay an extra $1.50 for your t-shirt if you knew it would double the wages of the person from a developing country whom made it?

Most of us definitely would. And my next question would be - Hang on… Would this $1.50 filter down the supply chain to where it can really make a difference?

The problem is, constantly attributed to the “fast fashion” culture perpetuated by consumerism, the profit first culture driven by retailers, snowballs to one disturbing fact - the human value of choice is $1.50.

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The very nature of fast fashion is in the name. Consumers want new trends, they want to look a million bucks, they want more garments than they can wear and they want it fast and they want it cheap. This demand is passed to the retailers, who pass it to their buyers and this is multiplied before being passed to the manufacturers. We know this is unsustainable yet we all choose to keep playing the same game.

Choices, culture, responsibility… what to do?

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"For me, there is true human value in that! We had the opportunity to really change the way people think and make an impact globally."

Why care?

My previous experience working in ethics, sustainability and social good with Child Labor Free (CLF) gave me insight into the internal alignment battles ethical sourcing professionals had to wage with their cross functional teams. Equally amazing was how this impacted on the prevalence of poor purchasing, selling and sourcing habits.

CLF aimed to provide opportunities for all brands to certify their supply chain and communicate their efforts in ethical sourcing to their consumers and importantly other businesses. The goal being to educate the public and industry at large and reward these businesses for their efforts through sales. The big vision to create a cultural shift in how we choose to source our products and redress the balance between profit and purpose.

For me, there is true human value in that! We had the opportunity to really change the way people think and make an impact globally.

Fast forward to now and my realisation that there is an opportunity to assist in this transition into conscious consumerism from the top down. Let’s change the culture that is the force majeure behind so many of the issues inherent to our purchasing habits. To this end I have recently joined The Zone, working with companies, groups, teams and individuals to essentially “make organisations more human”. Too often organisational values are just words on paper, rather than the vessel for organisational alignment they are intended to be. Most organisations in the current climate identify ethics, or an incarnation thereof as a key value but precious few action this as part of the behavioural norms that dictate their day to day operation and interactions. The Zone can, with our knowledge of CSR, our drive for sustainable cultures and the legislation bringing the issues of ethics and sustainability to the fore, make a big difference not just to individuals, teams and organisations - but to the way we all see and impact the world. In doing this we can begin to heal the broken culture of consumerism.

Thankfully there are many companies already doing spectacular things. Some have foundations specifically set up to help increase the living standards of their manufacturers, others run community activation days promoting “green practices”, there are many different approaches.

The issue comes where there is no real reflection of the values that have brought about these programs in the day to day retail operations. As an example, I have seen on more than one occasion a purchasing team being given bonus for driving down the purchase price with a manufacturer to maximise profit. In a profit only world… it is defended. In a stakeholder world view it is understood that this behaviour puts immense pressure on the manufacturers in an already pressurised environment and is a direct driver of adverse labour conditions. Ironically, then there is this profit being allocated from sales to their ethics and sustainability projects which are set up, for the cynical amongst our readers to provide food for their positive social media campaigns.  For those with a more optimistic outlook it is to directly alleviate the issues these purchasing practices are causing at the manufacturing level.

These efforts are in essence correcting an issue of their own creation. To quote the often overused saying - a vicious cycle.

What if we could prevent this process at the very beginning?

What if we could ensure that extra $1.50 YOU choose to pay goes directly to the machinists crafting the item you just purchased?

All of these organisations I believe have the internal collective intelligence to rectify these imbalances. The issue is not capability it is an issue of culpability, it is a lack of values alignment. It is where I see real opportunity for The Zone and our tools to have real global impact. We believe that if we elevate our people, we can elevate all elements of business and life. We want to make the world of work more human, and evolution starts with changes within… within ourselves, within our teams, within our organisations, within our communities. Top down, bottom up. Collective intelligence aligned to a greater good.

This is not a result that will happen by the dedication of the few but the few with the resolve will in time inspire the change in the many.

We have a choice every day on who we buy from and why, and retailers have a choice every day in how they source, supply and promote their products. Somewhere along the line the culture of consumerism has taken on a relentless lack of responsibility and a penchant for bad choices. We all need to be a part of the change. We can provide real value to those making ethical sourcing decisions through our choices as consumers.

The human value of choice, choose humanity.

“Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable” (Mary Oliver), as the heart has an undeniable power for providing inspiration to the mind.