You can barely open a magazine today without seeing an advert illustrated by a photo of a smiling black grower whose life has apparently been improved immeasurably by the intervention of an enlightened British food company.
The more I see, the less I like them. The implicit subtext is: "Altruistic white man comes to aid of needy Third World." This heartwarming storyline makes no reference to how rapacious colonial exploitatation lies at the root of many &'struggling&' countries&' problems. And it ignores how iniquitous global trade rules and the activities of transnational corporations perpetuate global poverty to this day.
Naturally, the purpose of such adverts is to boost profits by making consumers feel good about buying the product. But it also allows big companies to cherry-pick one of their activities that casts them in a good light to put an ethical halo around the entire business.
No wonder big food industry players are queuing to take over, or invest in, small, ethical companies. Cadbury acquired organic chocolate brand, Green & Black&'s. Then jaws dropped in non-government organisation circles when the Fairtrade Foundation awarded its prestigious mark to Nestlé&'s Partner&'s Blend coffee. Nestlé is no stranger to ethical boycotts and Partner&'s Blend represents less than one per cent of its coffee portfolio. Nestlé doubtless expects to further improve its ethical profile with its stake in Divine and Dubble Fairtrade chocolate.
But consumers are more sophisticated than that. Since its takeover by Cadbury, the ethical rating of Green & Black&'s among consumers has dropped from 16 out of 20 to six.
Meanwhile, an alliance of 120 non-governmental organisations is demanding amendments to the Company Law Reform Bill, currently before parliament, which would require companies to minimise significant damage to workers, communities and the environment, and enable people overseas who are harmed by UK companies to take action in a British court.
And guess what ? The Confederation of British Industry is already lobbying against the amendments. It is defending the status quo whereby companies are free to promote a highly selective, self-serving, flattering image of their activities, free from any rigorous independent scrutiny. Nice try, but I&'m thinking consumers won&'t let them get away with it.