Take It Personally
By Anita Roddick
Atul Shah reviews a news book by Anit Roddick, which shows the widespread damage done by modern business immorality.
We are living in a world which is very complex and becoming ever more so with time. Out lives have become complex, our health and well-being are suffering and the planet is buckling under the pressure of it all. How does a computer analyst working in a multinational corporation assess the impact of his actions on society and planet? Is it wrong to work for international banks with prestigious names, but also with big corporate clients who use child labour in the third world? As Jains, are we really concerned about the impact of our work and actions on others, or are we simply content to focus on the pay cheque and leave ethics to someone else?
These are questions I have often asked myself and I have tried to work in areas which resonate with my inner conscience. Anita Roddick, the founder of Body Shop, has tried to examine the impact of her business and other businesses on people and the planet and she has opened the eyes of the world to many lies and excesses of corporate greed. He latest book ‘Take it Personally’ is a brilliant culmination of this lifetime of work and demonstrates that modern business continues to devastate. She is especially critical of big business, comparing for example the wages of CEO’s to those of factory floor workers who actually make the goods which generate profits for the company.
The book is a compilation of essays, pictures and art from all over the world, which describe the impact of your company on outside world, which describe the impact of business. Very often, the impact of your company on outside world would be hidden or invisible as you are simply a cog in the wheel. However, when you see some of the graphic pictures of child labour or the statistics of wage differentials, then these facts really come home. The book contains contributions from eminent writers like Vandana Shiva, Paul Hawken, Ralph Nader, David Korten and the Ruckus Society which specialises in non-violent protest. It pieces together the whole picture of corporate actions and impact in a way which is unique. The subject covered include globalisation, fair trade, agriculture, employee rights, environment and money, the msot important underlying factor. The book is written in a simple accessible language and is easily readable by students from age of 16 to businessmen and women keen to learn about modern economic practice.
The findings are shocking. For example, Vandan Shiva writes: “Who really feeds the world? My answer is very different from that given by most people. It is women and small farmers working with biodiversity who are the primary food providers in the third world and, contrary to the dominant assumptions, their diverse small farm systems are more productive than industrial monocultures.” Modern day economics textbooks and courses try to disguise this world and talk about an impersonal firm or market whose sole purpose is profit maximisation. Greed is the God and the books shows the devastating impact of all those who worship, live and pray to this ideology.
Underlying the entire book is the subject of ethics and morality. How should we live? What work should we do? How can we minimise harm and maximise good? How can we make sense of this complex world of money, high finance, technology, globalisation and all the other jargon that is floating about? The book tries to demystify and thereby enables ordinary people to tackle the jargon of business or economic experts. Just because a person wears an executive suit and works for a famous company, should not discourage us from questioning their values and corporate actions.
Jains are big in business, they own many enterprises or work in senior positions. The values of modern business are entering areas which were previously treated as public enterprises like professions, healthcare, transport and education. It is said that our success in business has been credited to our values and character. We have often been trustworthy and reliable. We have believed in mutuality and sharing rather than private greed and exploitation. However, this may not be so today. The global economic winds are fundamentally immoral, and just as religious people are often dubbed fundamentalists about the religion of greed, even though they may not admit it.
The title of the book Take it Personally is particularly apt for the moral crusade that Anita Roddick and the writers have undertaken. They have taken their business very personally. They are willing to change their ways and their lifestyle and not just follow the modern norms of success and prestige. The book also shows that when people take their lives personally, they do achieve fulfilment and happiness in the long run. Jains are very intelligent and educated. Therefore, shouldn’t we also be involved in such moral crusades and use our positions to lift the quality of life for all? Why is our business or workplace any different from our temple or community centre? Why should it operate under different laws, and be governed by greed and exploitation?
There are Jains today who do take it personally. In Nairobi, the Khetshi Dharamashi family is an excellent example of this. Not only are they very active in the community and generous in supporting its institutions, but they are also involved in a wide range of charitable giving to Africans all over Kenya. They have recently started a micro-credit enterprise where women are encouraged to manage their own little businesses by small loans and training in financial management. Such an approach empowers and supports entire families, as opposed to giving big loans to big companies which eventually go bankrupt or defraud the investors or creditors.
There are excellent examples of Jain entrepreneurs all over the world who generously support good causes and get involved in them. However, this picture is changing very fast. Selfishness is setting in. We are increasingly not taking our business and working lives personally and happy to ignore moral issues if our wealth or profits are at stake. Furthermore, the complexity of the modern world is also making ethical dilemmas more sophisticated and we are becoming more confused about where we stand on different issues. This confusion is forcing us to follow the wind rather than to stop, reflect and revise our actions.
Take it personally is a must purchase for any reader who is keen to make a difference in the 21st century even in a small way. It is a guidebook for any student of business or economics and should be used to question the experts and the professors with their elaborate theories of greed and free markets. The picture and art shows us how we can visually portray the impact of human actions so that others may understand them. It weaves together voices which are going to make a real difference in this century and are signs of ethical renewal in modern world. Read reflect, mediate and act.
Atul Shah, Editor of Jain Spirit is a former scholar and writer on business ethics. ‘Take it Personally’ by Anita Roddick is published by Haper Colins, 2001, ISBN 1-57324-703-3
Soucre: Jain Spirit March-May 2002