Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


Shutting, stable, bolting. There’s a message in there

March 2013

There’s nothing like a good scandal to stoke the appetite, I find. And the horsemeat saga that’s set to rumble on across Europe for the next few months is no exception. All this talk about how lean, healthy and tasty horsemeat is – certainly when compared with beef – has made me want to try it. Which, of course, I probably already have.

Hindsight is a marvellous thing, but it is easily argued that the troubles that engulfed the financial, fashion, UK newspaper and, now, processed food sectors were scandals waiting to happen. Or, to put it another way, were already long-running scandals that merely hit the headlines through a combination of bad luck and poor judgement.

The banks involved with their various scandals had no apparent incentive to do a great deal about addressing the issues before they eventually flared into a PR catastrophe. But, certainly in the banking sector, large (though, possibly, not large enough) sums of cash are now being paid in recompense.

The real point here, though, is that while we will likely, eventually, return to those financial institutions once their discredit has worn off; and while we might once again supplement our cheap slabs of beef with a little equine DNA, each scandal makes the consumer a little less trusting of the labels and more aware of the issues. And the gossamer web and location of supply chain players and the materials they source is an ongoing story.

Over the coming months and years, market research will surely increasingly reveal a more engaged, informed and discerning consumer. Indeed, a study last month was saying exactly this: that consumers have many more questions about the sourcing and manufacture of the goods they buy.

The study, by BBMG, GlobeScan and SustainAbility, finds that a majority of consumers across six international markets want to reconcile their desire for shopping with responsibility. The subsequent report, Rethinking Consumption: Consumers and the Future of Sustainability, says nearly two-thirds of consumers globally equate shopping with happiness (63%), while also feeling a sense of responsibility for society (65%). The limitations of the study are shown, however, when one sees the infinitesimally-small sample size – 6,224 respondents – but the warning is clear. Dr Colin Morgan, in his guest column on page 4, covers the same issue: that supply chain management is a major corporate vulnerability which will only face greater scrutiny and regulation.

Meanwhile, this is my last editorial as editor of Ethical Performance as I’m opting for a freelance life in which I plan to plough a wider furrow. My successor is Liz Jones, an experienced editor who I’m sure will carry the flag with equal charm and enthusiasm. It’s been great working with you all, and I wish you good fortune in your many journeys ahead.

Peter Batt | UK & NI Ireland | Consumer attitudes

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