Thursday, 13 September 2007

‘The point however is to change it …’

… And that other old socialist darling Tony Benn always used to say ‘its about policies not personalities’. (Of course this was in an earlier, pre-Blair age when there were actually some policies that marked a division between parties).

But his words sprang to mind in reading the obituaries of entrepreneur / philanthropist Anita Roddick. Depending on your point of view, she was either a pioneering campaigner worthy of induction into the radical pantheon, or a sell-out hypocrite.

Of course she was actually neither and both of these things. She took a stand against animal testing, campaigned for the environment and human rights, and yet at the same time, wouldn’t allow her employees to join trade unions and sold her business to a multinational that pretty much stood all her values on their head.

But the point is – it’s not about personalities: The likes of Naomi Klien and George Monbiot have done a fantastic job at exposing injustices in the world but they have a problem when it comes to a programme for change. Then, what they argue for all starts to sound a bit like caring capitalism; ‘business as usual but nicer’.

Which is exactly what Anita Roddick represented. But it really doesn’t matter if businesses are run by good well-intentioned liberal types, it’s the for-profit system that fucks us in the end. And no amount of organic dewberry lip gloss in eco-friendly packaging with a percentage of the profits donated to Amnesty is going to prevent somebody somewhere in the supply chain getting screwed over.

This doesn’t change the fact that if I’d met Anita Roddick, I’m pretty sure I’d have liked her.

In purely human terms if you’re going to be a entrepreneur how much better to be one with a conscience (albeit a fallible one) than an out-and-out cunt like those who run Walmart, Shell, McDonalds, BAE, Glaxo etc etc. I’m also pretty sure she did a damn sight more practical good than most of the armchair anarchists posting diatribes on the web.

Nowadays I find myself in a position of managerial authority. I’d like to think that I try to do the right thing most of the time. But that’s a matter of personal ethics, I’m not going to kid anyone, myself included, that this is going to change the world. Even if every single manager behaved that way.

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