I love trees, and one of the great things about London – compared with other cities – is it’s green spaces and tree lined streets. So I’d like to see more of them, and welcomed the idea of a ‘green bridge’ in the heart of the city when it was first mooted. Especially as it was to be coupled with innovative – almost sculptural – design. But if this Observer article has got its facts right, why don’t we just use the £60 million of public money, supposedly pledged to this project, to grow ourselves a proper forest that’s open to all? That’s fifteen million trees by my reckoning! Read more….
For those of us old enough to remember, this story must call to mind the lyrics of Joni Mitchell’s song ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ from the album Ladies of the Canyon, released way back in April 1970. It goes something like this:
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot spot
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
They took all the trees
Put ’em in a tree museum
And they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see ’em
The opening of the new V & A exhibition – What is Luxury? – has got the press into a lather this week trying to decide what constitutes the ultimate indulgence, and how it will be defined in the future. Surely the simple answer is ‘silence’ or at least the absence of irritating distractions. Has silence become the ultimate luxury good in our frantic world?
The author Mathew Crawford’s, whose new book The World Beyond Your Head is just out, says, “Figuring out ways to capture and hold people’s attention is the centre of contemporary capitalism. There is this invisible and ubiquitous grabbing at something that’s the most intimate thing you have, because it determines what’s present in your consciousness. It makes it impossible to think or rehearse a remembered conversation, and you can’t chat with a stranger because we all try to close ourselves off from this grating condition of being addressed all the time”.
As a nation we seem to have a developed a thirst for lists and superlatives, and TV shows ranking everything from top ten records, funniest comedians, and highest bridges abound. So, great news! With the Sunday Times Rich List out this weekend, Retail Week magazine has just published its list of the world’s 100 richest retailers. At number one is Amancio Ortega, who has managed to amass an eye-watering £38.76bn. Whilst, coming in last in this select cohort, are Michael and Rainer Schmidt-Ruthenbeck with a paltry £1.33bn between them! Add the whole lot together and they’re probably worth more than the economic deficit of a modest sized country, and I’m sure they’re worth every penny!
The nerd in me welcomes the arrival of another listing; a kind of retail Top Trumps for those who like order in their lives. And I’m sure that those at the top of the rankings are puffing their chests out with pride at the confirmation of their peerless business acumen. But apart from giving their egos an unnecessary boost, and giving Retail Week a few more column inches, what’s the purpose of these rich lists?
Yes, it’s heart-warming to read the entrepreneurs’ epic struggles from rags to riches, but are their stories and wealth meant to inspire envy or admiration? Do they prove – as Gordon Gekko said – that “greed is good”? Should we be overjoyed by their success, or depressed by our lack of it?
Are there lessons to be learned or a moral to be inferred? For instance, if only we lazy slackers got off our backsides could we be as rich as Croesus too? Inspired by this example lowly paid shop staff will surely be spurred on to make their own pile from retail! Or, should those laggard billionaires ranked eighty through one hundred pull their socks up and emulate their betters in the higher echelons?
I suppose, when all’s said and done, some good has come of it after all. At least compiling the data kept some journalists and accountants in work – proving that wealth does indeed ‘trickle down’. And during these austere times it does your heart good to confirm – like the politician said – that “we’re all in this together”!
Was it an April Fools stunt? When launched on the first of the month, some commentators thought Amazon’s new Dash service was just that. But it isn’t! It’s more like a bad dream really; a glimpse into a dystopian future, some might say! I wouldn’t go that far but it does mark another way-point on our descent into total consumerist immersion.
Taken at face value, the idea of having handy prompts around the house reminding you to order everyday essentials is no bad thing. Who doesn’t need a little help compiling their shopping list? Who hasn’t exclaimed “damn, I should have got toothpaste!!” when unpacking a week’s shopping? It’s frustrating, but conquering the shortcomings of one’s memory is a useful discipline!
But, if I’m reading this right, Dash isn’t so much about useful prompts and organising your needs but instant gratification, slavish loyalty to brands, and elimination of competition. It’s potentially resource hungry and wasteful too. Regular replenishment is one thing. Programmed delivery of printing ink, water filters, and janitorial supplies has got to be more efficient, but how does the economics of whizzing round with an instant toilet or kitchen roll stack up?
Presumably some-one has to pay for delivery. Would that be Amazon, the customer, or the self-employed courier; paid per parcel, but responsible for his own fuel and vehicle, and working unlimited hours? Or maybe the skies will soon be buzzing with delivery drones? Ignore the Sunday afternoons – and maybe nights – shattered by infernal noise, what is the risk of being poleaxed by a parcel falling from the sky, or swiped across the head by a rogue drone, as it bounces off your roof, and breaks a few tiles into the bargain? Threats to privacy, security, vandals with catapults, portents of Metropolis-the list of reasons not to use delivery drones just goes on and on!
24/7: Terminal Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep, by Jonathan Crary
……….the idea of a divergence between a human world and the operation of global systems with the capacity to occupy every waking hour of one’s life seems dated and inapt. Now there are numerous pressures for individuals to reimagine and refigure themselves as being of the same consistency and values as the dematerialized commodities and social connections in which they are immersed so extensively……….
……There is a pervasive illusion that, as more of the earth’s biosphere is annihilated or irreparably damaged, human beings can magically disassociate themselves from it and transfer their interdependencies to the mecanosphere of global capitalism. The more one identifies with the insubstantial electronic surrogates for the physical self, the more one seems to conjure an exemption from the biocide underway everywhere on the planet. At the same time, one becomes chillingly oblivious to the fragility and transience of actual living things.
“Is armed conflict always wrong? What is child labour, and is it always wrong? If gemstones come from land taken from indigenous people without compensation, are those gemstones ethical? Are your employees paid a living wage and equal pay for equal work, if not, are you ethical?” Just a few of the questions posed last week by Dana Schorr at the Gem-A ethics debate, which I had the pleasure of chairing. Having challenged the audience to question every one of the speakers’ assertions, I soon had a lively debate on my hands!
Facing a packed conference room were three speakers with decades of ethical jewellery experience between them. Challenging our notions of what is ethical or moral, Dana illustrated many of the worse – some would say inevitable – consequences of globalisation. He also tested the right of corporations to determine what is ethically or morally acceptable. Which begs the question, is the work of the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) lust marketing then? And different cultures have different standards, does that make the case for moral relativism?
Dana works out of Santa Barbara, California, where he set up Schorr Marketing in 1980 to import and export rough and cut gemstones, a decision he made after falling in love with gemstones at Tucson shows. His career encompasses buying in Thailand and India, representing miners in Tanzania, and opening a cutting factory in Sri Lanka. These days he promotes manufacture in Asia and is a big noise on AGTA and ICA committees.
Apologising for what he acknowledged might appear an anti-corporate rant, Greg Valerio – once described as the most dangerous bastard in the jewellery industry – made an impassioned plea for real solutions by real people; building a system and process that verifies the truth and builds confidence, transparency and traceability. He cautioned that the finer motives of CSR shouldn’t be allowed to be swallowed up by corporatism, subsumed by the profit motive, or abandoned as a consequence of change of ownership. What he wanted to see was sustainable economic impact on the ground. And he rejected Dana’s assertion that the trade and public balk at the cost of ethical assurance, “you mean you don’t want to pay!”
Greg comes from background in human rights and environmental advocacy, setting up CRED as a development and education network in 1991 following trips to Tanzania and Ethiopia. His initial focus was human rights, the environment, and economic justice for the poor. In 1996 he set up CRED jewellery to retail fair trade green-gold and platinum, as a test bed and model for what could be achieved. Greg has received many accolades for his work, in 2013 he wrote a best-selling book – Making Trouble: Fighting for Fair Trade Jewellery – describing his journey so far. Having relinquished the running of CRED he has subsequently worked with the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation (FLO), the JEC-UK, and is soon to become a consultant for the Gem-A.
Reminding us that small businesses form the majority of the jewellery supply chain and corporations are effectively standing on the shoulders of the small guy, Vivien Johnson – a consultant specialising in responsible sourcing of precious metals, diamonds and gems – concluded that there is little sense in dumping the good things we already have, simply because we find it hard to define what is ethical, or we suspect the motives of big corporations. She cautioned against an approach to CSR that becomes simply a tick box activity that fails to capture examples of best practice, to educate, or develop. Endorsing the work done by Branded Trust in co-operation with the Gem-A and the World Jewellery Federation (CIBJO) to produce a holistic approach to CSR and a toolkit for success Vivien commended their new online course.
Vivien has over fifteen years’ experience in the jewellery sector, and first-hand knowledge of ethical consumer brands having founded Fifi Bijoux in 2006 as a sustainable business model promoting ethics in mining and jewellery. Fifi Bijoux uses exclusively traceable and ethical sources, and its success led to numerous consultancy assignments for Vivien in the USA, China, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Mongolia, and mainland Europe. Having racked up accolades as a young social entrepreneur she is currently the chairperson for JEC-UK and a consultant on ethical issues for the Gem-A.
I still lament the slow pace of change over the last decade, but I came away from time in the hot seat with some over-riding impressions. First, the ethical message has more effectively percolated the industry than I had feared. Second that there is still a great thirst for more knowledge. And last, if we could harness the goodwill and energy that was in the room last week, we could make massive strides towards a transparent jewellery sector.
So, as a membership organisation, trade association, or professional body, your world is changing. Your role as gatekeeper to privileged information has disappeared. The internet has given free access to sector data. Previously, when you spoke, your members listened, but not anymore! You understand social media is the new member engagement front – at least your inbox tells you so – and you’ve got some young people working on it, because they understand these things! And yet, shifting your brochure to Facebook hasn’t quite cracked it, and you’re beginning to wonder if you’ve become busy fools! How can you make this torrent of information work for you? Why is everyone else succeeding when you’re not?
Grant Leboff is a sales and marketing expert. He has three books on the subject under his belt to prove it. Sales Therapy and Sticky Marketing, his two earlier titles, were in Amazon’s top ten Business Books, and number one in the Sales & Marketing bestsellers chart. His latest, Stickier Marketing, went straight to number one in the Amazon Sales & Marketing Chart, and was in the top ten overall Business Chart, on publication in February 2014. It provides companies with the new principles of marketing so they can thrive in a digital world, and recently I arranged for him to share some with Institute of Association Management Members!
We’re going through a ‘social era’ according to Grant. One in which ‘word of mouth’ has gone online, and – to quote Oscar Wilde – “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about”. Marketing is no longer about the image companies create, but the reputation they earn, expressed through what others say about them; building communities, not winning customers; and creating great content.
Sounds like a lot of work – you may think – pumping out all that content every day! But that would be to miss the point. Firstly, membership bodies must resist their natural instinct to ‘broadcast’ their important words of wisdom; focussing instead on a curatorial role; editing choice and maybe adding their imprimatur of authority; but certainly focussing on the ‘ME’ in social media.
Why? Because your members look for personalisation, are interested in what ‘influencers’ have to say, and are likely to act on recommendations from people they trust. So, harnessing the ‘wisdom of friends’ is the key. Ask yourself, where is the value for your customer in each piece of communication, why would they share it, and how? As traditional communal structures break down, and individuals, faced with ultimate choice, have to act on their own instincts, they look increasingly for social proof to guide their thinking, reinforce their ideas, and confirm their choices. And once they have made choices they want to legitimise them by involving others. Plus, there is nothing that most people like more than talking about themselves. If you can harness their desire to be associated with ideas and content and organisations that show themselves in a good light, they will do your marketing for you.
It came as a shock to realise that over ten years have passed since a conversation between Greg Valerio and I that led to the Joint Ethics Committee UK (JEC-UK).
He had just presented a contentious report – Towards an Ethical Jewellery Business (compiled by Magnus Macfarlane, Anne Tallontire, and Adrienne Martin, of Greenwich University) – to the NAG Council and received what could best be described as a frosty response from some members.
At a follow-up session we hatched a plan for an ethics working group, and at our first meeting in 2004 were joined around the table by Geoff Field, then CEO of the BJA, and representatives from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Greenwich University. Apologies, I recall, were received from DTI, Global Witness, and DIFD on that occasion, but over the next five years they, and many other organisations, were to give us the benefit of their experience. Such that in 2009 we formalised the Joint Ethics Committee into something approaching its current identity.
So, it was with some satisfaction that, over a decade later, I found myself at The Goldsmiths’ Centre – also undreamt of in 2003 – for the announcement that the Houlden Group, the Company of Master Jewellers (CMJ) and Retail Jewellers of Ireland (RJI) are to work alongside the National Association of Goldsmiths (NAG), British Jewellers’ Association (BJA) and the Gemmological Association of Great Britain (Gem-A), in supporting the work undertaken by the JEC-UK. Two important buying groups and Ireland’s largest jewellery trade association added to the JEC-UK platform gives weight to the committee’s sustained effort. Personally, I hope that their support will encourage the industry to re-double its efforts on sourcing.
Back in 2013 we (JEC) launched a ‘Gold Paper’ examining the practices and policies of refineries, suppliers, retailers, NGOs and banks and their efforts to regulate and monitor the movement and provenance of gold within the UK supply chain. Detailed analysis revealed that the adoption of rigorous policies – both imposed and self-policed – was impacting on the tracking of gold back to responsible origins. However, it also showed that the industry needed to shore up its claims to social and ethical sourcing with transparency, traceability, and advanced communication across the entire supply chain. At the time I thought the plethora of initiatives in the gold supply chain too perplexing for retailers, and those that wanted to trade ethically. So from the outset we tried to come up with some straightforward guidance that cut through the rhetoric. Our answer, ten simple recommendations!
Last year, I was privileged to meet gold miners from Peru and Bolivia who supply the raw material, and to hear first-hand their accounts of the conditions under which they work. Their stories are a powerful testament to the benefits that can accrue from certified gold, and the positive effect that it has on local communities and people. I came away convinced that Fairtrade Gold has a pivotal role to play in building a traceable and transparent supply chain. So I welcome the Fairtrade “I Do” campaign, stressing the importance of ethics to new jewellery consumers.
Now the JEC-UK is going one step further by announcing plans for a ‘Diamond Paper’ to be released in 2015. My hope is that with this initiative; the greater resources that more members will bring; and practical measures like the Gem-A’s new CSR course, and the “I Do” campaign, we will see the momentum really ramped up!
A week, they say, is a long time in politics! But in CSR, it appears, a decade can disappear in the twinkling of an eye!
With echoes of the Scottish referendum, the British Jewellers’ Association (BJA) and the National Association of Goldsmiths (NAG) issued – according to the trade press – a “Together We’re Stronger” missive at International Jewellery London (IJL), extolling the virtues of a unified organisation and naming the committee members that will bring about the proposed supply chain ‘love in’. Contrary to expectation, The Unification Working Party is not a Maoist cadre tasked with boosting rice production, but a bipartite committee trying to determine the details of the NAG / BJA merger which was announced with a flourish – and the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding – earlier this year. The IJL meeting was its progress report. But I can’t help thinking that, just like the ‘yes’ campaign, there are still a lot of unanswered questions floating in the air. Like, what are the benefits of unification?
Aside from the obvious potential economies of scale that might be achieved, what else will benefit their respective members, the trade as a whole, and the public in general, if these two bodies – each with a proud history – are lumped together? But before we get onto that, consider those economies of scale. Sure, having one chief executive instead of two will save a few quid, and combining the ‘back office’ functions makes sense, but unless everyone is going to squeeze in together that still leaves two buildings to be serviced. Or is the plan to sell the NAG’s prime asset, its Shoreditch building, and put the resulting once-only wedge into the fighting fund?
Reports in the press speak of an impassioned plea to his AGM for greater industry collaboration from the BJA chief executive who is quoted as saying, “Here is the vision– a united industry pulling in the same direction, speaking with the same voice and creating even greater consumer confidence in the purchase of jewellery”. But what exactly is that vision? Are manufacturers and retailers currently pulling in opposite directions, and will the unification of two trade associations lead to more consumer confidence?
During my tenure I thought all parties worked together pretty well when it came to such consumer confidence issues as ethics and supply chain transparency. With retailers (NAG) and suppliers (BJA) holding each other to account, and the Gemmological Association (Gem-A) offering impartial expertise; thus maintaining the necessary ‘tension’ between the protagonists that got things done. Back in the day, campaigners protested about conflict diamonds or dirty gold outside jeweller’s shops, because they appreciated that their visibility and immediate financial impact would force retailers to demand action from their suppliers. Thus, vested interests were exposed, and change was effected by applying pressure back up the supply chain. But once there is one body representing that chain, no matter how many reassurances it issues, it will inevitably be seen as a cosy industry cartel by conspiracy theorists. Will ever be able to counter the activists’ charge that “they’re all in it together” and “they would say that wouldn’t they”?
The NAG and BJA aren’t in the same league, but just look where consolidation has got the electricity suppliers. It’s now virtually impossible to separate power generation from consumer supply. The result is that customers are distrustful and resentful of the impenetrable monoliths that they believe collude to stifle competition – against customers’ interests – and increase prices!
Meanwhile the NAG’s chairman was quoted in an earlier article declaring that the differences between the BJA and NAG are “becoming increasingly blurred”. I disagree. The differences between the two organisations are clear. The NAG has been training its members and their staff for over one-hundred years; spawned the Institute of Registered Valuers and SaferGems within the last decade; and established the original ethics working group. The BJA came late to the party, preferring to concentrate on helping its members to export their products and their manufacturing capability. But both organisations are undeniably experts in their respective fields.
The only reason that the two bodies are now chasing “the same types of members” is that, faced with a moribund manufacturing industry at the turn of the 21st century, the BJA had to look elsewhere – namely retail – for members. NAG’s principle error, and what provided BJA with a toe-hold, was to believe that Canute-like they could stem the rising tide of internet selling and thus had no need of online members who didn’t meet their standards. The BJA mopped up those that failed their test!
If my past experience as a ‘foot soldier’ during two trade association mergers is anything to go by, then they will be lucky to pull it off without one side or the other thinking they’ve been shafted; alienating the bulk of their existing members; without sacrificing their expert staff to ‘economies of scale’; or transmogrifying into an amorphous blob that doesn’t truly represent anyone – a jack of all trades, but master of none. The sector deserves better than ‘vanilla’ representation and if the working party wants to sell this merger it will have to come up with more compelling narratives than those currently going the rounds. As the referendum debate proves, radical change is effected by appealing both to the heads and to the hearts of voters. So far – at least from the outside – I don’t sense that this debate has come up with the right combination of these elements to really capture hearts and minds of grass roots jewellers.
The Co-operative Group has been voted the most ethical company over twenty-five years despite a recent crop of scandals including those at its bank that contributed to a £2.5bn loss in 2013. Who would come out on top if we asked customers to rate jewellers in the same way?
Readers of Ethical Consumer magazine bestowed the accolade recently despite Lord Myners’ review condemning the Co-op’s governance as ‘manifestly dysfunctional’, and the problems brought about by the revelations surrounding former chairman Paul Flowers, who pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine in May. What seems to have played to the Co-op’s advantage is the magazine readers’ ability to take the long view – discounting the media’s glee over its current difficulties – and concentrating instead on its long history of ethical trading.
The Co-op was making difficult ethical and commercial decisions as far back as the apartheid era; a debate that lasted throughout the late 1970’s and into the early 1980’s when the CWS announced its decision not to stock produce from South Africa. There have been many imitators in subsequent years, including those who believed a large dollop of ‘green-wash’ was enough to salve the conscience of the questioning consumer. Nestle has been cited as one of the latter, and they have found to their cost that consumers have long memories and don’t find it easy to forgive brands for their misdemeanours.
Recent structural changes at the Co-op mean the jury is still out over the retention of their hard-won ethical credentials. Meanwhile, a new cohort of ‘born-green companies’ – organisations that from day one prioritised corporate social responsibility (CSR) in their supply chains – has emerged to lead the charge. Second-placed Lush is one such company, and this UK-based handmade cosmetics firm, founded in 1995, is often cited as an example of why ethical supply chains and financial success aren’t mutually exclusive. Its success has led to over 800 stores worldwide, factories contributing goods from more than 40 countries, and yielded sales of £321m in 2010/11.
Despite the best efforts of the Gem-A and others to explain gemstone treatments – and synthetic versus simulant – customers are still largely in the dark. The words ‘ethical jeweller’ are bandied about but the public remains mystified by what ‘ethical’ jewellery means and remain confused by the plethora of initiatives surrounding traceable and transparent gold, diamonds, and gemstones. I for one would like to see one of the many trade magazines sponsor a customer poll, along the same lines as Ethical Consumer, asking the question, “who, over the last twenty-five years, has been the most ethical jewellery company”? Maybe the winner – like the Co-op – would surprise us!
Regent Street is to become the first shopping street in Europe to pioneer a mobile telephone app which delivers personalised promotions to visitors.
Capturing shoppers’ attention as they walk down the pavement was once a relatively simple task for high-street stores. They relied on location, innovative presentation, and a dash of theatre, to stand out. But now, with shoppers’ shrinking attention span shorter than the average goldfish’s, and the advent of smartphone and Internet accessibility almost anywhere, the battle to capture awareness has become even tougher. So now, to compete with the existing blizzard of information, The Crown Estate, which owns Regent Street, will introduce a new smartphone application that effectively allows your favourite retailer to shout “Hey, we’re over here!” as you walk past their door.
Sceptics might see this as the technological equivalent of handing out leaflets wearing a funny costume. But this system takes advantage of location-aware beacon technology to deliver discounts, new-product promotions and other alerts to shoppers’ smartphones as they walk past stores and restaurants. The app, created by US agency autoGraph, allows users to select their shopping preferences from a list of 40 well-known brands. It then builds a profile to determine which customer gets marketing messages from which brand and distributes them via Bluetooth. Simple! But what are the downsides?
First, shoppers need to download an app to make the most of the technology – thus limiting the possibility of bringing in new customers – so recipients will already need to be somewhat engaged. Secondly, with about 100 stores along Regent Street already fitted with the technology, shoppers could be in for a disorienting and none too relaxing stroll down their favourite thoroughfare if they have selected all their top brands. I’m sure these will prove minor quibbles now, but wait until the technology becomes commonplace.
Imagine the scene. Aside from the risk of fist-fights over ‘personalized’ discounts when customers are summoned by phone like Pavlov’s dogs, pavements will become assault courses as recipients halt mid-stride to study their alerts. Avoiding those mesmerized by simply speaking on their smartphones is already bad enough, will distracted pedestrians soon be wandering into the path of oncoming traffic entranced by a must-have offer? And taken to the extreme, one can imagine the chaos on Oxford Street as great shoals of Christmas shoppers surge back and forth, pounding hither and thither, egged on by competing enticements, first from John Lewis, then House of Fraser! But I digress!
The inevitable arguments about privacy of data will eventually apply too, and we will be given the same tired assurances that our details are safe. In reality such systems can only offer really individual content if fed with enough personal data. So the trade-off is privacy versus greater convenience. Presumably you have to opt in to this particular app, but what if all that other data captured by machines connected to the ‘Internet of Things’ begins to leak over time? Who’s going to stop all those computers talking to each other? Because, if they really are busy developing human characteristics – one’s allegedly already passed the Turing test – they will inevitably become dreadful gossips! And as Schopenhauer said, “If I maintain my silence about my secret it is my prisoner…if I let it slip from my tongue, I am ITS prisoner.”