By Vivian Roberts

“If you do not act with integrity … you are not likely to enjoy the kind of reputation that will keep good people in your employ, or keep customers coming back for your products or services.” - John Ralph.
There is an often quoted saying used by those in business for immoral and unethical behaviour towards others. Chances are you have had this line used on you before; “it’s nothing personal, it’s just business”. For many, this statement justifies any wrong doing to another because it’s rationalised in the accumulation of wealth. This was exactly the case when Pacific Brands (Bonds/King Gee) CEO Sue Morphet sent the jobs of 300 Illawarra textile workers overseas. It implied that value could only be found in financial wealth, and that there is little or no value in social and ethical responsibility.

Pacific Brands came under intense public pressure with sections of the community vowing in protest to never purchase Pacific Brands products ever again. Like so many other International companies, Pacific Brands was willing to accept the short term losses and wait until public pressure subsides, public apathy kicks in and sales start to increase again. The loss of bonds to the Australian manufacturing industry was another blow in the Australian psyche, and reaffirmation that “Everything is made in China”.

BHP Billiton axed 1,800 jobs when the Ravensthorpe Nickel mine was closed in Western Australia. The impact on the town was devastating, leaving working Australians with mortgages greater than the property value of their homes. This is just another example of how the social impact of International profit mongering is the Pandora’s box of Liberal democracy.

Former Australian Prime Minister Billy Hughes made the following comments after clearly recognising that business and economics are inter-related with the personal and national condition;
“But if it were a question of trade only affecting our pockets, the fiscal question might be fairly left to settle itself. But it reaches down to the very roots of our lives. You cannot proceed upon the assumption that the economic policy of a nation has no relation to its national welfare. The relations between the two are inseparable, intimate and complex. This fact is fundamental; to ignore it, is to not only to invite but to ensure national destruction”.
Australians are exposed to unethical business practices on both the micro and macro level, from the preference of cheap foreign workers over long standing Australian workers; the selling of Australian mines to foreign Governments; pollution cover-ups; insider trading; to the bribing of local Government councillors to approve developments that are not in the interests of the communities they represent. All of these examples have one thing in common; the use of economic rationalism and little consideration for social and cultural impacts as having a societal value.

The Australian Government has legislated business ethics in the framework of preserving the environment and biodiversity after long term lobbying by interested parties. State and local Governments now require land developers to engage in biodiversity impact statements and environmental management plans if their applications are to be successful. However, social and cultural impact statements largely remain the undiscovered country in terms of Australian legislation. No person or business is required to submit a cultural impact statement for the business practises they engage in, nor is a local council under any obligation to determine if a new Mosque or Hindu temple will have any unfavourable social impacts on the local community.

It should be a legal requirement for any organisation who preferentially employees foreign 457 guest workers over local workers to complete a social and cultural impact statement. Not only should the statement cover how foreign workers will “fit” into Australian society, but whether or not they understand and accept the social norms, culture, and resource restrictions of being an Australian resident. Had cultural impact statements been performed either by large corporations or the Federal Government before large scale importation of cheap labour, it is doubtful that reactive programs (assimilation assistance) implemented by the Australian Government would have been needed. All of these problems create significant costs to the Australian taxpayer, which is a cost to society which is socialised and borne by the average Australian citizen.

In the absence of Government legislation, it is up to the Australian people to ‘vote with their feet’ when purchasing products or services, and to become comfortable with the mantra ‘my dollar is my vote’. This is now more important than ever, considering that voting for Labour or Liberal is a vote for misrepresentation.

In using purchasing power as a vote, Australians place a value in social and ethical responsibility. This same social responsibility is practised when purchasing green electricity. The cost to buy a socially, ethically and environmentally responsible product is usually greater than the cheapest standard product on the market. Yet, Australian’s continue to demand green/ renewable sources of electricity, despite the higher economic costs. Similarly, Australian’s need to demand Australian made and owned products are available to the marketplace, regardless of the higher economic costs. It is our social responsibility to ensure Australian jobs by purchasing Australian products. Become comfortable when shopping and asked by a sales assistant ‘Can I help you?’ and reply ‘yes, what products are Australian made?’. If they answer none, ask for the boss, manager or at least convey to the assistant you demand Australian made products, and shop elsewhere. Of course the assistant is not the boss but the message starts to get through via employees as well.

Consumer boycotts and responsible purchasing are effective tools to bring about necessary social change. The boycott Israel campaign is one such example of economic resistance carried out overseas on another issue to good effect. For example, in 2004 the Presbyterian Church (US) voted 431-62 for a resolution “to initiate a process of phased, selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel” because of their continued war crimes" which continued until 21 June, 2006.

Regardless of whether the state authorises official sanctions, the main value of a product boycott is to effectively empower local people to ‘self sanction, shame or bring into disrepute’. The object of the boycott is in changing behaviour to meet the expectations of the community in which an organisation resides and derives its profits.

Individuals must take more responsibility for their choices in the changing of Australia’s demographic and cultural landscape. Directing personal cash flows is one of the most powerful and easy tools people can harness. If enough people get on board, a REAL powershift occurs in the community’s favour regardless of what the oft unrepresentative Australian state does.
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