Stand up and be counted

If brands and agen­cies are an in­trin­sic part of the so­ci­eties from which they emerge, they should be sup­port­ing those so­ci­eties through thick and thin

ArabAd - - CONTENTS - By Iain Ak­er­man

‘We are not in pol­i­tics, we are in busi­ness’ is a quote I once read or heard. It made an im­pres­sion, not only be­cause it at­tempted to negate all moral re­spon­si­bil­ity, but be­cause it made it eas­ier to coun­te­nance the cross­ing of eth­i­cal bound­aries.

Some brands and agen­cies have no qualms about who they do busi­ness with or whether they sup­port mi­nor­ity rights or not. Money is money. Busi­ness is busi­ness. But in a world where brands and agen­cies claim to be more at­tuned to so­ci­ety; when they cham­pion so­cial causes; when they at­tempt to cre­ate move­ments for good; when they talk about cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity and busi­ness be­ing about more than the bot­tom line, why do they con­tinue to make what could be viewed as eth­i­cally ques­tion­able de­ci­sions?

Should agen­cies work for gov­ern­ments that do not hold full le­git­i­macy? Should brands refuse to op­er­ate in territories where hu­man rights are sup­pressed? Should they sup­port equal rights and the free­dom of ex­pres­sion and as­sem­bly? Or should they just keep their mouths shut? Most seem to favour the lat­ter, par­tic­u­larly in the Mid­dle East. Yet this flies in the face of cur­rent con­sumer de­mands for trans­parency and so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity, with brands stand­ing ac­cused of cre­at­ing a cul­ture of ma­te­ri­al­is­tic ex­cess and over con­sump­tion, whilst si­mul­ta­ne­ously mar­ket­ing them­selves as vir­tu­ous, even as they ig­nore is­sues of inequal­ity, well­be­ing and global con­cerns over the en­vi­ron­ment and health. If com­pa­nies are at­tempt­ing to be gen­uinely cor­po­rately re­spon­si­ble and to re­flect a grow­ing move­ment to­wards hon­est and prin­ci­pled cor­po­rate behaviour and com­mu­ni­ca­tion, how can they sup­port some­thing in a par­tic­u­lar mar­ket where it is easy to do so, but not take a sim­i­lar stance in a coun­try where they will face a sub­stan­tial back­lash? Is it not ob­nox­ious that com­pa­nies choose to align them­selves with a cause that no longer holds any con­tro­versy in a par­tic­u­lar mar­ket? How many com­pa­nies, for in­stance, openly boy­cott Is­rael at risk to their own bot­tom line? Hardly any. How many com­pa­nies raise their heads above the para­pet when it comes to gen­der equal­ity in the Mid­dle East? Google it and see if you can find any.

And who can blame them, you could say, when more than half of the Egyp­tian men ques­tioned as part of the In­ter­na­tional Men and Gen­der Equal­ity Sur­vey agreed that “there are times when a woman de­serves to be beaten”. And when only 31 per cent of Egyp­tian men agreed women should have the same rights to work out­side the home as their hus­bands.

Es­sen­tially, men’s views of equal­ity be­tween the sexes are trag­i­cally out of sync with the hopes of young women. So isn’t it the role of the pri­vate sec­tor – as much as it is the pub­lic sec­tor – to com­bat those views?

If brands and agen­cies claim to be an in­trin­sic part of so­ci­ety, shouldn’t they be fac­ing the is­sues of that so­ci­ety head on? No dilly-dal­ly­ing, no pussy­foot­ing, just stand­ing up for what’s morally right.

What they should not be do­ing is at­tach­ing them­selves to the coat-tails of a move­ment for fi­nan­cial gain. Such in­sin­cer­ity should be boy­cotted at all cost.

If com­pa­nies are at­tempt­ing to be gen­uinely cor­po­rately re­spon­si­ble ang to reáect a grow­ing move­ment to­wards hon­est and prin­ci­pled cor­po­rate behaviour and com­mu­ni­ca­tion, how can they sup­port some­thing in a par­tic­u­lar mar­ket where it is easy to do so, but not take a sim­i­lar stance in a coun­try where they will face a sub­stan­tial back­lash?

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