A Little Less Talk . . .

We must dismantle white supremacy.
– Sign in window of Ben & Jerry’s Burlington store

I’ll get right on that. After lunch, world peace.

Somewhere along the long and winding road, the concept of “corporate social responsibility” took a weird turn. It morphed from taking responsibility for, you know, corporate actions, to beaking off about the contentious issues of the day.

When did it stop being about protecting workers from noxious chemicals, from unsafe work practices, and from each other? About creating products you could be proud of, or at least about preventing pollution from operations? About dealing fairly with suppliers and customers? About supporting local little leagues and food banks?

When did it start being about putting signs in windows?

Maybe that’s not fair. Maybe Ben & Jerry’s has their own house completely in order. Maybe their products eschew high-fructose corn syrup. Maybe their production processes are squeaky clean, their production byproducts a blessing to the environment. Maybe they’ve gone years without any harassment complaints. Maybe they have multiple generations of families working for them. Maybe they have hiring programs for under-represented minorities and training programs to support them. Maybe they’re well known for building capacity in their base of local suppliers.

Then maybe they should say that, instead of this.

We must dismantle white supremacy.

Why? Well, as the person who saw this sign said plaintively,

I’d just like my ice cream not to yell at me.

If you’ve really got your own house in order, show us what that looks like and explain how you did it. Maybe it will inspire us to do the same. From there, who knows what we might accomplish?

And all without any yelling.

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16 Responses to A Little Less Talk . . .

  1. Mary Gibson says:

    Excellent! So many things, these days, are about “marketing” or “communicating”, in the corporate world. Much easier than actually DOING SOMETHING. In the same way I’ve seen many government/government agency/non-profit strategies, and very little “strategy implementation”, complete with sequenced tasks, resource and risk estimates. Sigh. So disappointed I didn’t manage to fix the world before I retired….

  2. Jim Taylor says:

    I’m going to offer a different view — not contrary, but just different. My gas company has taken a “green” tack in their advertising. Although they’re still selling greenhouse gases, they’re portraying themselves as getting it from hydro dams, food waste, and even contented cows. It’s a scam, of course. Nothing’s changed. The gas still comes out of the ground as fossil fuel. But I think that advertising may, in time, have ripples. The employees will start to think about more ecologically-sound means of operation, and amend their industrial practices. By that reasoning, for B&J to put a sign in their window — even if it has nothing to do with their ice cream — may be a good thing. It won’t affect their product… but it might affect their employees.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim – This is the same conversation I used to have with “organizational development” types about corporate vision statements. I said, “It says we’re doing something and we’re not.” They said, “It’s aspirational.” I could buy that if we were trying. If we were taking even baby steps toward our stated goal. This is a “Today, this block; tomorrow, the world” way of thinking and it isn’t wrong. As long as “thinking” isn’t all we’re doing.

      • barbara carlson says:

        “Aspirational” is the buzzword for avoiding responsibility for words. Trump’s lawyer is using it to say Trump “hoped” there would be an insurrection on Jan 6 — he didn’t intend to incite one! It’s like saying Attempted Murder isn’t a crime — cause you didn’t complete it — through incompetence.

        • Isabel Gibson says:

          Barbara – Yes, this is the sort of legal wrangling that brings the profession into disrepute.

  3. Judith Umbach says:

    If we have to wait for every house to be in order, no house will ever be in order. We need to do what we can, when we can.

  4. As you have done so often, you alert me to a problem that usually slips under my radar. I absolutely agree with you about putting one’s ideas and beliefs into actions. Slogans are slippery. Even small moves in the right direction are “toothy” with traction and can make a huge difference. Especially as each (shift in metaphor ahead) pebble in the stream sends out concentric circles of energy. Slogans like the one you showcase have little impact unless they are broken down conceptually — as you do — into manageable components that we can imagine trying to change. We need to take the time to do that for others, if we can.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – What you describe/suggest is very like project management, to my mind: breaking down a lofty or distant (or ill-defined) goal into do-able steps. Worth the effort, in this and other applications.

  5. John Whitman says:

    Isabel – In summary, “Talk is cheap!”

    Another slightly less apt saying might be, “All sizzle and no steak!” So, in Ben & Jerry’s case would you buy, “All ice and no cream!”

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      John – Well, the cheapness of talk is precisely the concern, all right. In Ben & Jerry’s case, I don’t know whether they put their money where their signage is.

  6. barbara carlson says:

    Why is Ben and Jerry’s being sued?
    The labor issue surfaced publicly in a New York Times investigation late last month. The report revealed that American corporations and their suppliers use underage migrant laborers for dangerous and gruelling factory jobs, including in dairy facilities that supply Ben & Jerry’s.Mar 20, 2023

    Suspect sign in window was some employee with a Magic Marker.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – Thanks for making that link. I had heard vaguely about abuse of underage, undocumented-migrant labourers, but didn’t realize there was Ben & Jerry’s connection. I’d like to think they didn’t either. I expect it’s hard/next-to-impossible to vet the labour practices of all your suppliers.

  7. Beth Starkweather says:

    Would it be better received if it was on a sign in front of a church? Is it okay for religious organizations to post aspirational/inspirational statements but not for businesses?
    Where I live in central Michigan, it is not uncommon to see religious sentiments on garbage trucks and political commentary on fruit stands. In the US, the courts have held that corporations have the free speech rights of individuals.
    When I read, “We must dismantle white supremacy,” I hear it in the same voice as signs imploring me to “Spread Kindness” or “Praise the Lord.”

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Beth – That’s an interesting point. I saw religious sentiments on buses and trucks in Guatemala – just part of the culture. Maybe it’s a sign of an integrated life! (I’d still like it better if they said, “We’re dismantling white supremacy by doing such-&-so” but maybe that doesn’t fit on a window.)

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