Posted by: bevmeldrum | December 18, 2007

Ethical Superstore – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Capitalism

An article in the Independent newspaper yesterday was talking about the success of Ethical Superstore (www.ethicalsuperstore.com) which has reached £2 million this year.

I have to say I hadn’t actually heard of it until now but having spent a bit of time looking around it has a great range of products – my favourites are the recycled Grolsch bottles. I had some of these previously until (after considerable use, some might even say excessive) they broke. I had bought them from a small online shop that I can’t even remember the name of.

But that is the point of this website of course – all your ethical needs in one place. It’s a great idea and I will certainly be doing some Christmas shopping on it. One feature I’d like to see is a ‘Wish List’ – that way I send my family to Ethical Superstore and they can buy me some great presents for Christmas (some more recycled Grolsch bottles please).

What was particularly interesting about the article in the Independent was not so much the website itself but the comments Andy Redfern, one of the owners (previously a director at Traidcraft). Here is an excerpt from the article:

“Its founders, Andy Redfern, a former director at the development charity Traidcraft, and Vic Morgan, a social entrepreneur in his native US, point out that while Tesco stocks a token one or two bars from the Fairtrade chocolate company Divine, they stock the whole range of 62. The two believe that, although social enterprise is “all very well and good”, to actually make a real difference to people’s lives it is important to build a profitable business and on a large scale. “We will harness the good, the bad and the ugly of capitalism to make a difference,” says Mr Redfern.”

That sounds like fighting talk to me. I’m all behind Ethical Superstore – what a great way to raise the profile of ethical goods and the income of those developing the goods. It is fantastic and I will be shopping there.

Of course, it could be just be a comment out of context but do we really want to be saying that small-scale, community based enterprises aren’t making a significant impact on individual’s lives in a way that no large scale business, ethical or otherwise, could ever do.

Isn’t there room for everyone to play? Aren’t the needs in our society and our communities so varied that we need to approach the challenges for all sorts of angles? And as for being profitable – anyone involved in social enterprise knows that with profits there’s no social enterprise and therefore no social impact. Social enterprise = Profitable Business.

I wouldn’t mind so much if they talked about how they chose to take the route of large scale ethical business because it was the best option for them. But taking the time to rubbish any other approach … maybe that’s just the ‘ugly’ bit of capitalism they were talking about.

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