“The form doesn’t have a box for fair labor conditions”

Posted: June 10, 2011 in Responsible business
Tags: , , , , ,
D'Iberville, MS, November 24, 2005 -- A FE...

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The whole sustainability / fair trade issue would be so different if it were a question that has to be addressed. Instead it often has to be shoehorned in to the agenda.

Imagine if this weren’t the case. A couple of weeks ago I moved house and our electricity supplier offered 100% renewable energy as an option; all I had to do was tick a box. Too easy.

The word for this problem is schemas. We all have schemas. When you get presented with the same problem over and over, you start to take mental short cuts. You ‘know what to expect’ so you don’t give it your complete attention. Driving a car is a clear example, but we can have schemas for more abstract matters, such as a familiar-sounding customer enquiry.

Schemas are fine for many situations. The requirements of driving a car don’t change from year to year. However the business world is dynamic and evolving and there is always going to be emergent information which will be missed by a person who is following a mental script.

Worse, the pressure to produce measurably better results means that you don’t get paid to think of considerations other than what is right before you. Especially considerations that might add costs, like the work conditions under which goods are made, and whether the people who make them can afford to live on what they are paid.

It’s even worse when the process is all mapped out for you in procedures and flowcharts and, yes, tick-a-box forms.

(I think that goes beyond ethics – organisations that do not or can not respond to change have a strategy problem and are headed for an eventual crisis)

What to do about it? For one thing, ‘outsiders’ are more likely to see flaws in an organisation’s approach. Either ask for outside advice or, if you are in a position to influence hiring decisions, ensure employees come from a variety of social and cultural backgrounds and don’t share identical outlooks.

At the very least lobby for a metaphorical “Any other comments?” field! – for the option to add unexpected information. How many meetings have you attended lately that still have General Business or Open Forum as an agenda item? Event organisers don’t like them – they are hard to plan around, don’t seem to have a purpose and you never know if some nutter might hijack the microphone. However you never know what good ideas were never raised because there “wasn’t time”.

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