In November 2013 the National Labor Relations Board announced it would prosecute Wal-Mart, the country’s largest employer, for widespread violations of workers’ rights, including pressuring its workers not to engage in legally protected strikes for better working conditions.
In recent years the behemoth corporation has faced a torrent of lawsuits connected with workers’ rights, including issues of low wages and inadequate health care. Anecdotes are rampant of workers kept at part time status to deny them the benefits of full time workers and applying for local government assistance such as food stamps and health care since their low wages cannot provide for these basic necessities. Should the world’s largest retailer provide its workers with a living wage?
When Gordon Gekko in the 1987 movie “Wall Street” proclaimed “greed is good,” he defined the tone of the decade. Nothing matters but the bottom line. Corporations’ only responsibility is to their shareholders. In the aftermath of the 2008 Wall Street debacle and economic meltdown we look at such statements with a bit more wariness. Yet the argument prevails. Capitalism is the engine that drives the economy. Other non-profit organizations and government exist to promote the general welfare. The sole motive of business is profit. But is it? What does profit include?
In 1914 Henry Ford pioneered an alternative radical concept. Crippled by high worker turnover at his auto plant he doubled the basic daily wage to $5 an hour (about $120 today). He immediately was able to recruit and maintain the best workers in the industry and avoided the problems of worker retention. He also wanted his workers to be able to afford the cars they were building. He promoted the idea of a five-day 40 hour work week with a labor free “weekend”- the birth of the concept - so workers would have leisure time to take trips in their new cars. In one stroke he exponentially magnified his potential customer base and fostered the rise of a vibrant middle class.
Management consultant Fred Kofman (“Conscious Business: How to Build Value Through Values”) advocates such a more “conscious” approach to business. Through incorporating values such as responsibility, integrity, communication, negotiation and emotional mastery - common sense values that are often not commonly implemented - we can achieve “success beyond success” both in business and in life, for ourselves and all the stakeholders in our business.
There’s a quiet revolution growing in business. The movement of “conscious capitalism” refers to those who seek a broader awareness of their actions and practices on people and the environment. Tenets include “doing no harm” to people and the environment and the “triple bottom line model” - evaluating success in terms of its effects on people, the planet and profit rather than economic profit alone.
In “Conscious Capitalism, Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business” (Harvard University Press, 2012) John Mackey and Raj Sisodia argue for the inherent good of both business and capitalism. Featuring some of today’s best-known companies including Whole Foods Market (John Mackey is co-founder), Southwest Airlines, Costco, Google, Patagonia, The Container Store and UPS, they illustrate how these two forces can work to create value not just for shareholders but for all stakeholders including customers, employees, suppliers, investors, society and the environment. Four specific tenets - higher purpose, stakeholder integration, conscious leadership, and conscious culture and management - are employed to maximize business success and advance capitalism further toward realizing its highest potential.
Many jewelers have been on the forefront in creating conscious businesses. From the ethical sourcing of materials including fair trade diamonds to green recycled gold and silver, environmental awareness is front and center. Designer John Hardy’s company continually plants bamboo to aid in its goal of carbon neutrality. Jewelers are often magnanimous in their support of charities and social causes.
Expand your perspective and evaluate your business from a more comprehensive model. What more can you do to generate value across the spectrum? It’s the wave of the future. It’s good business. How conscious is yours?
Mia Katrin is an award-winning jewelry designer featured in over 70 top stores nationally. She is available for lectures and seminars. To add her Collections or book a lecture: www.jeweljewel.com, 877 539-3569, facebook.com/MiaKatrinforJEWELCOUTURELLC.
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