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Is benevolent retail achievable?

green slim dollar, moneyMy previous article Animal Welfare: In the hands of the retailer invoked an interesting response outside the norm. The emotive outpouring of support from retailers across most niches, via private email, was overwhelming yet public comments did not mirror the enthusiasm. It does, however, raise questions of an industry’s integrity and transparency if employees and leaders feel they cannot communicate openly and honestly. Perhaps an indication why so many brands of late have deviated from their core business – the satiating of an ever-changing customer base.

How certain and with what sense of urgency is retail taking to embed a benevolent culture that ensures no harm is inflicted upon human, animal and environment alike?

How much progress have we made as an industry?

Society: Sweatshops, child labour and slavery continue to flourish with the same agenda found throughout history. Is today all about quenching the insatiable excess of consumerism and the hunger for ever greater profits with no regard to consequence? Sure there are efforts and in some cases, bona fide advancement by a handful of traders, but in general little has changed.

Ecology: Factory farming of livestock is abhorrent akin to holocausts past. The mulesing [removal of wool-bearing skin] of Merino sheep for improved wool and the testing of animals for cosmetic and superficial gain is nothing but willful cruelty. Is there devious endeavour to mask the barbarity under the guise of free-range, sport or beauty? Damning testimony of the extent the industry is prepared to stoop in deceiving the public.

Environment: Trading in “green” commodity is no longer acceptable because of the impact such product has as a natural resource to offset supply and demand. The removal of virgin forest for bamboo and palm oil is insupportable, for it wreaks permanent damage to the ecosystem.

Economy: Atrocities endure through ignorance and greed of which the primary industries are not solely to blame. Retailers are co-conspirators if not key drivers of these malpractices by demanding, accepting, ignoring and implicating. There is no rhyme nor reason why retail is incapable of finding solutions that embrace all with due consideration, respect and empathy. The challenge is cost effective, eco-friendly, altruistic ranges backed by a genuine commitment to change.

GE-Sustainability-priorities-iconsThe public is waking to such travesties with a growing realisation that they carry the power to boycott and ability to administer pressure. Those retail brands who choose to ignore or underestimate this burgeoning phenomenon risk the ultimate and inevitable backlash. There is now a state of immanence, the customer is already asking questions and before long they will be buying with the most powerful of triggers – their conscience.

Generations will look back on the unadulterated excess and morbid gluttony with disgust and unmitigated shame. The hippie, tree hugger, green activist, conservationist, animal rights advocate, humanitarian, vegetarian, philanthropist and bleeding heart are no longer sideline fanatics, but an informed and increasingly outraged majority.

We need to resist the innate hypocrisy plaguing business whilst confronting personal tendencies to turn a blind eye or shy away from that which causes discomfort or stirs our compunction. Above all the sector must encourage open and honest dialogue from co-workers, leaders, consumer and shareholder alike.

The glass is half empty and only with a radical shift in corporate attitude can we hope for supportable replenishment thereof.

Dave Farrell is a retailer and writer with three decades of experience on three continents. He can be reached at Freelance Alliance NZ on

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