By Michael Beecher
Aug 13, 2014
“A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. They are not dependent on us. We are dependent on them. They are not an interruption in our work. They are the purpose of it. They are not outsiders in our business. They are a part of it. We are not doing them a favor by serving them. They are doing us a favor by giving us the opportunity to do so.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
How Money Shapes the World
Capitalism is an economic system in which trade, industry, and the means of production are controlled by private owners with the primary goal of making profits. In free-market capitalism ethics are not considered important unless business owners, consumers, employees or government legislation make them important. For the purpose of this essay, I will be excluding legislative solutions and showing how you and I, as business owners, consumers or employees can play a more active role in adding ethical standards to businesses within a Capitalistic Society.
As ethical business owners we should be caring for not only our customers, but our employees, the community as a whole, the natural environment, our products, what we’re selling, where the raw materials come from and so on. Just because the ideology of capitalism is only concerned with profits this does not mean we as business owners cannot create more ethical companies on our own without anyone telling us that we have to.
Are there not other factors to consider beyond just profits, individual wealth and cheap products? What about protecting the land, air and water, what about making sure our employees are able to provide for themselves and their families the standard of living we would want for ourselves and our own families? What about the services and goods we are selling, are they safe, are they healthy, how do they impact our customers and society as a whole? These are just some of the questions we can ask ourselves as business owners if we are, as I hope, concerned about the world we are helping to create or maintain.
Have you ever considered what went into creating the product you are purchasing? What mountain was destroyed, what river was contaminated, how the employees were treated, if they were paid fair wages, not just at the final stage but at the factory in China or at the mine in Africa and so on? Imagine how much is thrown away because it’s cheap and easily replaceable. But why is it so cheap, how often do we ask ourselves these questions?
Imagine a world where every consumer, you and I and everyone we know only supported transparent and ethical companies, and only bought products that were made by companies that stood by the same ethical standards we believed in, a world where businesses made sure they were “doing the right thing in the eyes of the majority” instead of only interested in individual profits and competing with other companies. Although these companies are harder to find, they do exist and are popping up everyday, trying to make it in this dog eat dog world we live in now. It is our job as ethical consumers to support ethical businesses and products if we want to help create a better world.
Becoming an ethical employee is extremely tough and from many perspectives take the most sacrifice! After all, in our current system, money rules the world. Without money how can one afford to live? But, if enough people were to unionize and demand ethical jobs paired with enough customers organized demanding ethical products and services it could ignite a domino effect as companies struggle to supply what’s being demanded. For example, if I own a shoe store and the majority of people decide to boycott my store until my company and the products I am selling meet a certain ethical standard I will either go out of business or give them what they want. Similarly, if I were to own a fast food chain and no-one wanted to work there or buy food there, I would have to go out of business or give them what they want to survive. When companies go out of business or decide to move somewhere else, it will create needs that are not being met such as jobs, products and services. As a result this will create amazing business opportunities and a new customer base for ethical companies to move in or start up.
As these transitions are being made, it will take a huge sacrifice on everyone’s part. It doesn’t take long with a little research and effort to see how difficult this can all be. Finding a job working for an ethical company, finding products made by and sold by ethical companies and essentially working as a community to shift the supply and demand is no easy task. Even when the demand and community support has been created profit is still always an important factor. But new businesses are doing it, organic food companies are hanging in there and gaining support. The prices are higher, but so is the value! I hope that instead of letting the challenges of supporting and creating ethical companies discourage us, they will motivate us in realizing how dependent we have become on unethical and unfair practices and businesses all in the name of profit. I hope we will begin to educate ourselves and make more ethical decisions as they relate to all aspects of business and not wait for our government to do it for us.
Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do.
If we want to create and live in a more fair, just, democratic and morally advanced society with the least amount of poverty, crime, pollution, disease and so on, we must learn the importance and value of voting with our money. Imagine a world where there are more ethical companies and more business owners that care about “doing the right thing”. Imagine not just jobs that provide a paycheck but jobs that are benefiting society in positive ways. Imagine a world with less crime and less poverty and less pollution. We can talk about changing the system in many ways through government change and through legislation change, but until then what can we do as individuals?
This is a way we can start changing things now within our current system as business owners, customers and employees on a daily basis. Become an ethical business owner or employee, create or demand jobs that consider more than just profits in everything they do. Become an ethical consumer by becoming very selective as to where you will shop and what you will buy, what companies you will support and so on. Talk to your friends, your family and your neighbors about this concept of “ethical businesses” and how we can all play a part in creating them and supporting them.
Changing the world for the better is not just a one time grand heroic act, maybe it’s best described as the small but consistent decisions we all make every single day. As the old saying goes…
“We blame society, but we are society”