In April, over 1000 garment workers died in the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh. The right wing Daily Telegraph reported that “many saw Rana Plaza as the moment fashion shoppers would realise cheap prices had consequences further up the supply chain. Today’s contrasting results show UK shoppers, largely, have other things on their mind.” So that’s all right then?
MI is a group of very serious, and mature, management professionals who don’t think this is all right. What’s more, we are trying to do something about it. Maybe comfortable Daily Telegraph readers are reassured that all’s well with capitalism as long as companies like Primark are increasing their profits. Maybe they think it is naive of us to think otherwise. Let’s put them straight.
Mature thinking accepts the reality of the world we face today while planning for a much better world tomorrow. The first, most obvious, observation I would make about the Rana Plaza collapse, from a purely objective business perspective (leaving aside my very natural, emotional, human response for now) is that the disaster was a business disaster for the owners of the business. It just so happens that really poor business decisions on this occasion cost over a 1000 lives that did not need to be lost. Another business perspective is that of the retailers whose supply chain was disrupted temporarily and caused them to incur extra costs and lower cashflow. It is a very cold and cynical form of capitalism though that only considers the direct business impact. It is very cold and cynical business management that puts this many workers’ lives at risk. But the most telling indictment of the Rana Plaza disaster, the one that says it is very wrong within the tenets of its own Daily Telegraph capitalist system, is simply that it is poor capitalism. We don’t need to get emotional about this to promote mature management thinking.
Mature thinking realizes that the collapse of the factory is a loss to everyone, not just the owners. Someone is going to have to build another factory. Hopefully this time one that is well designed and fit for purpose. Fortunately, really enlightened businesses, who have developed their own mature management models, believe they do have a wider responsibility to society. The Bangladeshi government should also learn that it is their human management systems of factory inspection that are letting down their own citizens: capitalism does not exist in isolation of political economy. Where are the mature government officials who are far-sighted enough to see how detrimental shoddy management and workmanship are bound to be for their economy?
MI believes that no business can be judged in isolation of its societal impact. The profit that the Daily Telegraph seems to think makes everything all right is a very poor proxy measure for the totality of what has happened to the society of Bangladesh. But it is not just Bangladesh which can ill afford to lose out. ‘Cheap’ clothes also have to be fit for purpose and the present capitalist system, in a world increasingly conscious of the need for sustainability, does not yet have an answer for the huge waste of resources that the relentless and seemingly inexorable cycles of fashion demand. Grasping capitalism begets grasping management who reinforce the worst of a grasping society.
MI is not judgemental though. The enlightened capitalist model we support takes the view that shoppers are free to buy whatever they can afford, wherever they want. In our model our vision is perfectly clear; we see that people are employees, citizens and shoppers all at the same time. The shoppers at Primark should be asking themselves what impact the present model is likely to have on them and their children as workers? If management keeps going backwards will they only find employment in collapsing factories in the West one day?
They should also be asking themselves what its long-term consequences are for them as citizens? We do not expect hard-pressed families to ask themselves searching questions about what they buy at Primark. What we do want to do is teach their employers that unless they get all these perspectives right there might not be much future for their business. By encouraging mature and highly effective management to produce the highest possible societal value we think employees will realise that this higher-purpose type of capitalism, which was actually the original version, was always the best version. It was and still is the only form of capitalism that makes sense for every single one of us.
There’s nothing naive about MI. In fact, if anyone is naive it is probably the Daily Telegraph reader who thinks they are still on the right track. They haven’t really thought it through have they?