A day at the Ethical Consumer Conference

A day at the Ethical Consumer Conference

There’s nothing more inspiring that being in a room full of people who share the same values as you and are on the same mission. It renews your sense of purpose and gives you a (sometimes much needed) boost of inspiration.

Yesterday I attended the Ethical Consumer Conference 2017, organised by Ethical Consumer Magazine, and it was definitely that kind of inspiring day! The venue was perfectly “on brand” with the theme of the day and it felt like a real honour to see inside Amnesty International at their Shoreditch base and be reminded of the amazing work they do around the world to fight for human rights and give people a voice. Even the bins around the building had campaign stickers on!

“Challenging Corporate Power” was the theme of this year’s Ethical Consumer Conference. At #EthicalHour we mostly focus on small ethical businesses and the basic every day steps and swaps that we can take as consumers to try and live more ethically. We’re all about doing your best but recognising that nobody is perfect and being 100% ethical all the time probably isn’t very realistic. What we don’t often talk about is why that’s unrealistic for the everyday consumer – and part of that is down to the power that large corporations wield.

Ethical Consumer’s Founder Rob Harrison opened this year’s conference by discussing the work Ethical Consumer do on corporate power, and reminding us why it should be challenged.

Did you know that if American company Wal-Mart were a country, it would be one of the largest economies in the world?

Some of the biggest global companies employ more people than entire populations of countries and even countries like Norway, Thailand and New Zealand have smaller GDP than some US firms.

The problem is that corporations act on short-term interests focused on their bottom line, often above basic human rights or care for the environment. They wield power by funding political parties, sponsoring thinktanks, paying lobbyists to promote their agenda and using their money to spin the media in their favour. Rob discussed how Ethical Consumer uncovered that United Biscuits, who own McVitie’s, were one of the leading funders of the Conservative Party – even though not all their customers may share these political views and may be unaware that by purchasing their products they are supporting them.

Rob set the scene for a day of questioning what we’re told by business, politicians and the media and asking ourselves what we believe and how we can live, shop and work within our ethical values.

Next up was Richard Wilson from Stop Funding Hate, who spoke about challenging racism in the media. I first came across Stop Funding Hate last Christmas when I saw them tweeting about the John Lewis Christmas advert, and I’ve been a keen follower and supporter of this innovative campaign ever since.

Last year the United Nations accused some British newspapers of “hate speech” and UK experts have warned that hate crime is being “fuelled and legitimised” by the media.  In 2016, the Daily Mail and Daily Express ran 1,768 pages with stories about migrants – almost all were negative. The media has such a large influence on our thoughts, beliefs and behaviours, so it is essential that we have media we can trust that treats everyone fairly, but sadly this is not the case.

Stop Funding Hate is taking on the divisive hate campaigns promoted by The Sun, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express by persuading advertisers to pull their support from these publications. These papers rely on income from print and digital advertising, and with UK advertising spend surpassing £20bn in 2016, there is a significant opportunity to create positive change.

The campaign has already had some significant victories with thousands of people supporting it on social media and calling out brands on their advertising choices. In November 2016, Lego went viral after listening to the campaign and announcing that they would no longer advertise in the Daily Mail.

Last month Stop Funding Hate received the Jo Cox Award at the #No2H8 Crime Awards.

Sean Dagan-Wood took the stage after Richard to tell us about Positive News – the world’s first community owned, crowdfunded co-operative media outlet.

Positive News aim to uphold the principles of quality journalism but challenge the assumption that news needs to be about what’s going wrong.

Fear-based headlines trigger our survival response and focus our awareness, which is why they’re so popular in the media. However, it’s proven that excessive negativity destroys wellbeing, trust and community, so by presenting solutions focused angles, Positive News aim to “create a fuller, richer picture of society.”

 

Challenging the world’s corporate and media giants isn’t easy, but it is important. As consumers, we must hold them to account and ‘vote with our wallets’ to ensure that we spend our money in a way that contributes to the type of world we want to live in.

We heard from Keynote Speaker Hanna Thomas, Campaigns Director at SumOfUs, about how consumers around the world are standing up and challenging the growing power of corporations – campaigning against corporate scandal and sending the message that we want to buy from, work for and invest in companies that respect their workers, the environment and democracy.

Hanna shared her ten tips for driving change, which included interesting points about how forming networks and relationships can strengthen your voice, and the importance of fact checking your campaign.

I really liked her point that when you’re campaigning, it’s important to remember that the people on the other side are human too, so always campaign and communicate with respect.

She also showed us this great campaign against palm oil – the advert Doritos don’t want you to see.

After the morning talks I attended Richard’s workshop about “Developing ethical advertising as a corporate social responsibility issue” – although it was hard to choose which one to go to as they all sounded great!

The workshop was structured like a focus group where we discussed how to encourage more brands to spend their advertising budget ethically. I hope we were able to add value to the Stop Funding Hate team, but I fear we created more questions than answers! There was an interesting debate about how to get the board to listen and the fears that businesses may have when engaging with the campaign.

Being a public campaign that encourages consumers to directly call out brands has been key to the success of Stop Funding Hate, but it’s also one of the biggest problems for them. By withdrawing advertising from these publications, brands may potentially be missing out on a key part of their audience so they need to find an alternative way to reach them. They might also be worried about offending readers by publicly stating that they disagree with publications that the readers support.

The workshops were followed by a delicious vegan buffet and a chance for some networking. There were lots of members of #EthicalHour at the conference so we managed to crash the stage for a quick Facebook live – check it out on our page!

I had a catch up with Ethex who had a stand at the conference all about ethical finance, and it was great to see Rachel after we worked together on their sponsored chat a few weeks ago.

Cred Jewellery also had a stand and it was fantastic to see the world’s first Fairtrade Gold from Africa! Check out our Facebook live to see it for yourself.

There were also some potential new #EthicalHour members who I had chance to chat to. I met Alinah from Sista London over lunch, who sells ethically-made, hand crafted African inspired accessories and a beautiful organic body butter, which she was kind enough to give me a sample of!

I also met Christina from Greenscents, who make natural, organic cleaning products. Ethical Consumer have rated their washing detergent the highest for all ethical credentials and they have vegan, Soil Association, Allergy UK and Leaping Bunny accreditations. We had a great chat all about ethical business and I hope they’ll be joining the #EthicalHour tribe soon.

After lunch we were back in the workshops, but this time I was running one! I presented the “Ethical Bloggers Skillshare” with Emma from the Oddword. Emma covered how to write great content for your blog and I talked about marketing and how to promote your work.

We had a mix of business owners interested in blogging and ethical bloggers in the room, so I focused my talk on why you should work on finding a community of people who share the same values as you and building relationships with them.

If you do that you’ll build trust with your audience and they’ll become your readers and customers. We also had some great questions about Facebook pages and advertising, SEO and social media algorithms.

The afternoon talks had more of a political focus. The highlight of the afternoon sessions for me was hearing from Paul Monaghan, CEO of Fair Tax Mark.

Fair Tax Mark provide an accreditation scheme and celebrate businesses who are proud to pay their fair share of tax.

 

Many wealthy corporations select where to base themselves based on tax laws and use elaborate methods to avoid paying tax. This means that they’re not fairly contributing to society or the economy.

It was inspiring to hear from Paul about his background as a campaigner, and his passion and belief come through when he speaks.

It’s refreshing that he focuses on celebrating the positives while he campaigns for improvement. He made the very valid point that not all big business is bad and not all corporations are the same. Social enterprise and the social economy is the future, and as Paul said, good businesses need to be empowered to make change – something we fully support at #EthicalHour!

After the conference we headed to a local pub for an informal #EthicalHour “Meet who you tweet” where we had even more ethical discussions and made some grand plans to take action on what we’d learnt.

It was a fantastic day, really well organised by the Ethical Consumer team with some inspiring speakers and great attendees. I’m looking forward to next year’s Ethical Consumer Conference already!

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