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Conscious business: We still have a way to go

ConsciousBusiness-321x450Australia has staked its place amid the growing global conscious business movement. Communities are springing up locally, championing purpose and passion and the necessity of compassionate and courageous leaders both within the corporate sector as well as the entrepreneurial path. This is fantastic news and an exciting progression of our cultural evolution. Yet the majority of these groups are missing a key factor that must be considered in corporate decision making: our relationship with the natural world and particularly with animals, writes Katrina Fox.

5 March 2014

The Conscious Capitalism movement has launched its Australian branch in Sydney, attracting executives, business owners and non-profits hungry for new ways of operating that go beyond solely a healthy bottom line.

Co-founded by Raj Sisodia and embraced by Wholefoods CEO John Mackey, Conscious Capitalism’s principles in a nutshell are: businesses to have purpose and meaning, leaders who create value for all the organisation’s stakeholders and a culture that fosters love and trust among staff. In other words, a company that does right by its employees, suppliers, customers and communities.

Again, this is to be celebrated and applauded. It’s certainly a win for those involved in such an organisation and its forward-thinking, holistic principles. But here’s the rub:

Two of the major companies held up as beacons of conscious businesses are multinational household product manufacturers Johnson and Johnson and Unilever – yet they conduct (or commission third parties to do so on their behalf) animal experiments.

The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection claimed last year that Unilever authorised experiments in which pregnant rabbits were fed Hoodia gordonii (CORR), a spiny cactus used by tribesmen of the Kalahari desert to stave off hunger pangs.

The tests were to assess the plant’s potential as an appetite suppressant for weight loss. The rabbits, according to the BUAV, were then killed just before they were due to give birth.

Even companies that have otherwise high ethical values and passionate staff determined to make a difference in the lives of people have a blind spot when it comes to non-human animals.

Red Balloon in Australia is an inspiring example of values-based leadership and a positive work environment. Its mission is to create a ‘happiness revolution’ and its commitment to providing people with unique and memorable experiences is laudable.

But a search on the organisation’s website brings up a host of events on offer that include shark diving at Melbourne aquarium, a behind-the-scenes tour of the Brisbane racing industry, trips to various zoos and encounters with dolphins and other animals at Sea World.

While these may be fun and happy times for the people taking part, they are anything but for the captive animals.

The problematic aspects of zoos have been well documented, including animals going insane with misery and boredom.

The recent documentary Blackfish reveals a similar scenario within Sea World and the issues associated with the imprisonment of cetaceans in aquariums and marine parks.

Meanwhile the horrors of the racing industry received record media coverage last year.

All this demonstrates how insidious animal cruelty is. It’s so ingrained in our culture that often we simply don’t recognise it until it’s pointed out to us (and even then, we sometimes prefer not to acknowledge it).

But to embody the concept of ‘ethical leadership’, to truly be a conscious business, or a compassionate or courageous leader, organisations must go further than the ‘safe zone’ of political correctness and take up the challenge of ensuring their practices are not detrimental to non-human animals.

Writing in Forbes magazine at the beginning of this year, Susan Tardanico listed her top 10 traits of courageous leaders. Number three is ‘Say what needs to be said.

Real conversations can be awkward and uncomfortable, especially if conflict is involved,” Tardanico notes. “Having crucial conversations helps cut through the smoke and move through issues. This also means having the courage to put your opinions on the table, even if they are unpopular.”

When it comes to animal welfare, this is a step ethical leaders must be prepared to take.

Katrina Fox is editor-in-chief at The Scavenger.
This article appears in issue 4 of The Animal Effect ethical leadership magazine.

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