Conscious social investment will gain consumer favour

We care more now. For the human race, there’s been a greater pull towards a collective morality than ever before in our history. Fuelled by social media and the access it’s allowed to information about past and present inequalities, there’s an increasing resistance to complacency. This move towards taking collective responsibility for one another and the issues that affect society represents a change never before seen on such a scale – and in this more connected world, where we’re more easily and readily exposed to injustices, this seems only logical. For all our fears about its destructive effects, the internet has fundamentally changed the way our society thinks about itself.

Pursuing capital gain at any expense, using any means to achieve our ends, has taken an indisputable toll on humankind. When this effect is framed in its gravest form — climate change — it’s obvious why there’s a push against such practices. In our present economic reality, this takes the form of consumer activism. It’s become abundantly clear we need to change how we conduct ourselves if we intend to survive the steady change that technology has brought into our lives.

The internet has had an enormous effect on the markets. The advent of consumer activism is a clear sign of changing times, a trend towards socially conscious behaviour, both from individuals and corporations. The consumer has become the conscience of the economy, voicing itself through that most critical resistance it can form: a refusal to give unethical enterprises her money. Through the internet’s unprecedented capacity to spread information, society’s moral compass has begun to guide consumer behaviour, aiming to discover its own ethical north. For an example of a similar phenomenon that can be viewed with the benefit of hindsight, consider the effect of the Vietnam War: as the first televised combat in history, it ignited a movement against war as a whole. The spread of information causes a reaction from those it reaches; if enough people react, that collective reaction can sway the course of history itself.

This process has been accelerated by the technology of the era, which is accelerating in and of itself. As the global forum exponentially expands, human society will have to adapt; it must come to terms with the newfound transparency expected of it. Governments, corporations and individuals must be aware that any misstep will be broadcast. However, on the other side of the coin, virtues will be praised, as they rightfully should be. Those that act in accordance with society’s moral standard will receive the reward of its preference, which translates to its capital. Thus, any entity entering into this era’s socioeconomic spheres must simply do one thing: be good.

Yet, this is not a simple thing to do. This is clearly evidenced by the behaviour of businesses throughout history, even when their intentions seemed initially pure. Past models of charity have proven prey to corruption, deceit, and other exploitable flaws. This has lowered the people’s trust in them. New methods of returning value to society must be put into action if they want to retain the approval of the population at large. In short, businesses must act with a duty towards society, a will to benefit the species at large, to benefit a cause.

Doing the right thing matters most to one particularly important demographic: the youth. More impassioned than the generations that preceded them, they have at their hands the most complete source of information in the history of our species.With it they will shape our collective future, down to the very way we think. Part of this will be an increased sensitivity towards the ethical standards we uphold. In order to remain in their good favour, which will decide the economic landscape of the future, companies must align themselves with their values. Not merely in shallow, demonstrative manners, but instead in consistent behaviour that results in sustainable change. As an Ancient Greek proverb expresses clearly, “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” Businesses need to plant the seeds for a shift in society: one towards a greater good.

As we know, a perfect solution has yet to be found. That’s all the more reason for us to turn a more critical eye towards the costs we incur through our actions or, conversely, the benefits that our society reaps from them. Because we find ourselves in the digital age, this eye is omnipresent and unforgiving: in recent weeks we’ve seen social justice served to palm oil producers, and Dolce & Gabbana was effectively erased from China after the fashion house’s racist actions.

This all-seeing eye isn’t one of an Orwellian dystopia: if anything, this all-embracing viewpoint is the result of the kind of benevolence that cares for oppressed people and plastic-choked turtles alike. The masses now hold sway over the powerful few that guide industry. Through consumer activism, organised movements have become our navigators in this ever-changing era. One can only hope an epiphany will reach corporations the world over; that in order to safeguard the future of their businesses, they must enact their own models of sustainable giving.

Companies with a conscience – with a cause driving them – will be the favoured few in this brave new world. To guarantee the economic blessing of society, businesses must take the initiative and stride alongside the activist population on the path to a brighter future.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

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James Nash
James Nash is a writer, poet and teacher based in Leeds. I spend much of my week working from home [at present on my next collection of poetry to be published in October 2018] or in schools, libraries and other venues within Yorkshire. But as Leeds is a city with great travel connections, there aren’t many parts of the country I can’t get to and back within the day. I travel by train, bus and taxi. This suits me. I have time to write, to read and to observe the world.

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