“They’re not,” my brain said. “They taste just the same. We tried them side-by-side at the weekend.”
“Okay,” my brain said, “but Tyrrells are ethical. That makes them better.”
“What does that mean?” my dad said. “Why does them being ‘ethical’ make them better? All that means is that they have a set of ethics they work to. The Nazi’s were ‘ethical’, they just worked to an entirely different set of ethics to the rest of us.”
As well as Godwinning my internal monologue, and being in my head when he had no real right to be there, my dad did have a point.
So long as a manufacturer strives to work to within a consistent ethical framework, they can claim to be ‘ethical’. Their ethical framework could involve pumping mercury into river systems and enslaving orphan children. So long as they strive to follow those ethics, they can claim to be ‘ethical’.
When companies do say they’re ‘ethical’, we tend to assume this means a number of things:
- They treat their workers and producers fairly;
- They strive to have as small an impact on the environment as possible;
- They respect the product they’re producing more than they money they make from it;
- They are up-front with their customers and treat them with respect.
Those are some very broad, sweeping statements. Does treating their workers fairly mean profit–and loss–sharing; or does it mean using the company’s assets to protect them from sudden changes in the market? Does treating their producers fairly mean having clearly worded, mutually agreed contracts which both parties abide to; or does it mean having flexible contracts which can be adapted to circumstances as they arise? Does treating their customers with respect mean not floating their company on the stock exchange, and therefore not being answerable to their shareholders before their customers; or does it mean relying on customers to drive market forces and so ensure they are making the product the customers want, the product they are buying?
We don’t know any of this. When company’s claim to be ‘ethical’, they put that on their packets but they don’t answer any of these questions. We just see that they’re ethical, assume that their ethics are the same as ours, and we believe should support them.
Once upon a time, a company decided to be Good Guys. They would be socially responsible, respect the environment and respect their customers. They were straight up with their customers, telling them, ‘these are our ethical beliefs, and here’s how we are abiding by them’. The idea of an honest company resonated with people, and their products sold.
Some guy in marketing noticed. They found the key word in that company’s sales pitch and copied their product design. Now everyone’s doing it and they’ve reduced all those complicated questions and good intentions to a simple equation: Ethical = good = I should support this product. No thought required.
Thanks for pointing it out, head-Dad.
But I fell for it. Godwin damnit.