Monday, May 21, 2007

Consumer and Employee Complicity

After a sleepless night with thoughts about the "honesty" of the Chicago Climate Exchange, one person's experience with a month long McDonald's binge in Supersize Me, and echoes of Milton Friedman, Michael Moore, and Ray Anderson's comments from The Corporation clouding my head, I may have come to some small realizations about where we are.

Consumers and employees are complicit in whatever environmental and social problems we have. There is nothing extraordinary or earth-shattering in that statement, but it is one that we often forget in the face of enormous challenges. We'd prefer to place the blame somewhere else, to blame the system or the government or "them". We are as mush to blame as anyone.
Milton Friedman made a comment in the interviews contained in The Corporation about what the corporate entity can "feel". It cannot feel anything, it's a legal construct designed to create profits for its shareholders. In that regard, it's amoral. The key part of Mr. Friedman's comment was this, the people that make up the corporation have morals and values. We cannot hold the corporation accountable, yet we must hold the people that make up the corporation accountable. I am convinced that people working in influential positions within corporations can all too easily hide from their moral responsibility in the name of the corporation's charter to generate profits. As employees of corporations, are we not morally responsible for the actions we take in the name of the corporation?

Mr. Moore made an interesting comment about the disconnects in his own life between actions and consequences. He recounted the fact that his parents were auto workers in Flint Michigan, one of the areas that have lost factory jobs over the past 20 years. While he is an outspoken critic of global corporate greed and misanthropy, he is quick to note that his parents built cars, some of the most environmentally polluting products throughout their lifecycle. Their work building cars helped them support their family, yet it also contributed to resource depletion and the shifting of wealth from one group of stakeholders to the corporate shareholders. He was quick to point out that disconnect, and it is one that many of us deal with on a daily basis.

In fact, I sit here in the airport, using the power of mobile technology to write this. Was this computer made to be reused? Is the Verizon card made to be reused or recycled? How about the bright white cup of Starbuck's I purchased this morning? Aren't they taking wealth from one set of stakeholders and transferring it to the shareholders? I am now part of that chain. Starbuck's is one of the more progressive companies when it comes to CSR and managing a just supply chain, so perhaps I am acting in a way that reflects my values more than I think I am.

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