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How woke is your workplace?

PUBLISHED: 10:12 12 February 2020 | UPDATED: 10:12 12 February 2020

What is woke capitalism, and do East of England businesses need to be taking note? Picture: Archant

What is woke capitalism, and do East of England businesses need to be taking note? Picture: Archant

Archant

Woke capitalism. It’s a concept which is already impacting every shopper in one way or another – whether you’re familiar with the phrase or not.

This is the concept that businesses are seeking to promote a more progressive vision within their industries - of social justice, environmentalism or diversity issues.

Conscious enterprise is filtering into the mainstream, reflected in the fact that the World Economic Forum invited Greta Thunberg to its Davos summit in 2020.

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The climate crisis campaigner was joined by three other teenagers: Salvador Gómez-Colón who spoke on the climate crisis and natural disasters, Natasha Mwansa on women's rights and Autumn Peltier who is campaigning for clean water for indigenous communities.

But jumping on the bandwagon simply won't wash, a brand and marketing expert has said.

Rob Davies of Norwich's One on One Communications said: "Sticking a rainbow on your packaging and saying you're woke isn't enough. It only works if you really believe in it and can deliver it. Otherwise customers will see straight through it."

Nike has widely been pegged as the leader of the woke capital movement having won a Creative Arts Emmy for its advert with American football star Colin Kaepernick released in 2018.

Quarterback Kaepernick popularised players 'taking a knee' rather than standing during the pre-game national anthem in protest at what he saw as social injustice in America. He was released from his team and remains unemployed.

But a year after Nike took a gamble on Kaepernick and were roundly championed, the firm was slammed for failing to guarantee its female ambassadors a salary in the months surrounding childbirth.

Mr Davies added: "It's not just a box-ticking exercise. If it's not something you can deliver on, don't jump on the bandwagon. Just look at Ryanair - say what you want about them but they have three promises: to deliver cheap flights to the most destinations in Europe and promptly. That's what they strive to deliver on.

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"There's a reason the 
biggest donors to environmental trusts and charities are oil 
and energy suppliers - because they can't make these promises but they're the biggest offenders and know they have to do something. If you can't contribute on the environmental side you need to be looking at other aspects of the business and how you can improve in other areas."

In this week alone we've seen stars rewearing garments on the red carpet under the banner of sustainability, as well as using the platform to denounce a lack of diversity and the climate crisis.

But where global brands attract global attention for their actions, local businesses still have their part to play.

Rebecca Scrase of Rebecca Scrase PR represents local tourism businesses including Suffolk Secrets and Norfolk Cottages.

She said: "As a movement, responsible capitalism is certainly gaining traction. It's driven in part by younger employees demanding change, social media disseminating ideas but also an acknowledgement that businesses can genuinely help social and environmental causes, even if cynics may construe this as virtue signalling rather than responsible capitalism.

"The great news is that while larger corporations have greater visibility with their actions, every business, no matter how small - or local - can help make a difference, whether that's thinking carefully about their carbon footprint, employing environmental policies and putting those into action, 
even helping with a local litter pick."

Taylor Gathercole founded Kindwood, an ethically-sourced firewood business, for this very reason.

"I was always very interested in the running of ethical business, and then I came across this product and it all fell into place really," he said. "It took me a long time to set up because I did so much research into what else was going on in the industry and how I could make sure every step of the supply chain was ethical.

"The fire wood industry is massively fossil-fuel reliant because of the methods undertaken to dry the wood. We do it all through renewable energy and have sustainable packaging, source from within 80 miles, and so on."

Mr Gathercole also went to lengths to achieve certifications for sustainability.

But he said that businesses claiming to be sustainable when they aren't in practise is devaluing the idea.

"It's frustrating when you work so hard to be environmentally friendly to see businesses making these claims, when it's clear they're not. I think it builds the idea in the public's mind that it's all a bit of a marketing ploy," he said.


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