On ‘corporate evilness’

I’ve been toying with whether or not to write about this for a while now. In my sector of work, what any given corporate gets up to, and how that negatively affects the wider world, is a very hot topic. Taking a ‘public’ stance on the side of these ‘evil’ entities could make for some interesting discussions with my peers. (Spoiler alert: I don’ think corporates are evil.)

So why talk about it now? Late last year Lego made the decision to end a multi-year partnership with Shell. This caused a great deal of jubilation among my peers as Shell, obviously, is one of the worst corporate entities there is. They profit from the extraction of oil, and are thus ultimately responsible for climate change.

Expect, no, they aren’t. They aren’t evil, and neither are they responsible for climate change. Obviously nothing they do helps with the destruction of the planet…

Although, actually, that’s not entirely true either. I’ll pause here to make it abundantly clear that I do know what Shell does as a company, and I’m definitely not in the camp of climate-change deniers. What I am saying is that it is well within Shell’s commercial interests to explore ways of increasing efficiencies in current fuels, to research forms of carbon capture (a technology I have cast my in-experienced eye over before), and to look into the viable production of alternatives such as biofuels. Of course, this doesn’t make them saints by any stretch. To continually lambast them, though, I find confusing.

You see, my issue – and its not limited to people Shell-bashing, its a wider problem I see in the social sector – is how unrealistic a lot of people are about the world in which they live. If Shell shut down all of its operations tomorrow, the Western world would collapse in about a week and a half.

This, ultimately, is where I see social enterprise winning. I spend a lot of my time talking about social enterprise from a ‘social’ point of view and trying to get corporates to take us seriously. What’s interesting though is that, in my experience, it is exponentially harder trying to talk to ‘charity types’ about social enterprise compared to corporates. The minute I talk about profits and money, for the former group, the shutters sometimes come straight down. In addition, when the conversation turns to what corporate bodies are doing (e.g. in the case of Shell spending money researching biofuels) the response is pretty standard: “Oh but they’re just greenwashing!” So? Who cares? If the aim is to get them doing good, and they do good, where’s the problem?

There really is a place for the small local charities doing their work. If I didn’t believe that I wouldn’t be working where I am. But instead of people in the third sector trying to topple the corporates and causing anarchy for the sake of it, why are we not trying to work with them to make the world better? I tell you something, they have far more resources than we do, and – like a child in the playground – they’re less likely to share their football with you if you go round and call them names.

Some people in my sector have such issues with taking money from corporates. I get it, I do – and the principles behind it are well-meant and moral. I ask this, though, which is more immoral: to take money from an organisation that would give it out anyway, and who won’t in any way be affected by you not taking it, and then using that money for immense social good; or not taking the money on the moral high ground, and then completely not being able to fix whatever need you’re trying to address?

Much like my spiel about attitudes to the election, this is coming from a more idealistic place than I usually inhabit. I am increasingly of the opinion though, that the corporate sector is the answer – charity, in some cases, just isn’t changing things quickly or sustainably enough. It has the people and the vision, but not the resources. And the charities with the strongest sense of mission are the ones least likely to want to engage with ‘evil corporates’.

This for me is a problem. I’ve been a little facetious through out this post on purpose – I know that the ends don’t always justify the means, and that you have to consider all the implications of your actions. What I really struggle with though, on a day to day basis, is seeing people with a social aim they believe in, and yet not exploring every option available to them to solve it.

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