Ethical retailing is not just about sourcing - it is a way of behaving, says Neil Gillis
Ethical retailing has become a fashionable aspect of our industry in recent years. This is an encouraging trend but if you examine it carefully it seems that ethical retailing often seems to mean little more than sourcing products responsibly.
Ethics in retailing - or in business for that matter - should go much further than how we buy our product. As we seem to be improving the ethics of our sourcing policies, the way in which businesses operate seems to be becoming less ethical.
Bending or breaking rules often seems to win admiration for the nerve and character it supposedly demonstrates, but cheating is cheating whether it is in business, sport or one’s personal life.
Perhaps this distorted view of business is partly because of the influence of the recent crop of reality TV business programmes. The picture of business presented is often one in which lying and distortion seem to be the ingredients of success and the sale of a poor quality product to the wrong customer is seen as a cause for celebration.
Portraying business as a world in which money and power are their own morality is neither accurate nor a helpful impression to give to the next generation of business leaders.
It has been said that if you want to know what God really thinks about money you should look at the people he has given it to. While money is, of course, important there is more to business and more to life than the accumulation of personal wealth.
I hope that people entering the retail industry for the first time find it to be a different place from the picture they may have got from TV. I hope they find it an environment in which they can developthe skills of persuasion and not deceit, where they can create value not just acquire it, and where they can develop the skills of leadership not intimidation.
We are fortunate in retail to have so many role models who have achieved great success, but who have done so in a way that earns respect. Individuals such as Archie Norman, Allan Leighton and Charles Dunstone are recognised as much for their intelligence and business expertise as they are for the ethical and responsible way in which they have conducted their careers.
I hope we can see ethical retailing get a real hold in our industry. UK retailers have made huge advances in how we source our products and the way in which we deal with our suppliers. But we need to do more.
We need ethical retailing to signify more than sourcing, for the ethical approach to move along the supply chain and improve how we do business as a whole.
Business will always be about making a return and our individual focus will be on our own success.
But when we each look back on our careers I am sure it will be satisfying to know that when we achieved some success it was by playing the game hard but fairly. It would be much better to be remembered as a Pelé than as a Maradona.
Neil Gillis is chief executive of Blacks Leisure