Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What Kyle has taught us about the power of consumers

I didn't really pay much attention when I heard that Kyle Sandilands had made some disparaging comments about a journalist. It's not the first time he's said something stupid. I'm sure it won't be the last. I don't like Kyle Sandilands anyway. I didn't think anything he has said would change my opinion about him. And I'm not the kind of person who goes, ooh, someone's said something really terrible so I have to go and find out what it is, just to make sure I don't miss out on any terrible comments he made.

When I did start to pay attention though was when news started coming in about all the companies that had pulled their sponsorship from Kyle and Jackie's radio show. In fact, it was the Blackmores page on Facebook that really caught my attention. If you're interested, take a look here: Not only does this page show that Blackmore's have pulled their sponsorship, but it's quite obvious that it was a response to the feedback they were getting from their customers. Furthermore, this page shows that some customers at least felt they could not continue to buy from Blackmores if they continued supporting the show. It also shows that Blackmores took notice of what their customers were telling them.

It's so easy to believe that we have no power. We are tiny little consumers swimming in a sea of very big corporations that have the power to change the water anyway they please. And I admit that when I've boycotted certain goods, at the back of my mind I can't help thinking, is this really making any difference?

Maybe it's not. In all honestly, it's probably not. While I'm quite good at writing to politicians and telling them when I think they should be doing something, when I'm annoyed at a company I just stop buying their goods. No letter of explanation. And I'm sure the meagre amount I spend with their company isn't missed.

But the Kyle episode shows that when people get really annoyed about something and let their feelings be known to the companies involved, things can happen. Companies are willing to change things if the backlash is strong enough. Consumers can make a difference.

While I am encouraged by this, I also think there's a lot we simply accept in consumer world without even questioning. We don't complain. We don't withdraw our support. We simply accept that is the way businesses do business. Or at the very least, we quietly take our business elsewhere and fail to cause a ripple in the water.

Imagine a day when any bad environmental practices cause the kind of reaction that Kyle's comments did. While Kyle's comments were certainly awful (yes, I have read them now), why are we so willing to speak up when it comes to comments about a journalist and yet we fail to speak up when it comes to destruction of our earth? And yes, there are people constantly telling companies they need to change their bad environmental practices. And often it brings results. But it does seem like consumers are less willing to accept horrible comments about someone they've never met than they are to accept practices that hurt the world we live in.

In all honesty, I think capitalism needs to be changed. It's bad for humans and it's bad for the planet. But if it is to survive relatively unchanged, I would at least like to see companies having to toe the environmental line, knowing that if they participate in any practices that hurt the earth, the backlash would be terrible.

But in order for that to happen, we (the consumers) need to keep speaking out. We need to not just take our businesses elsewhere, but explain why we are taking it elsewhere. We may not feel like we have much power, but we do have a voice. And we need to use that voice not just to speak to companies, but to raise awareness amongst everyone, so that more and more voices are added to the mix.

The Old Testament prophets spent their time telling the rulers or the people where they had gone wrong. They didn't devote a lot of time criticising companies - but that's because there were none around. But I think anyone who has read some of those prophetic books in the bible would realise that a lot of their criticisms seem almost to be describing the big corporations of today. I'm sure that if the OT prophets had been alive now, they'd be talking to CEOs as well. And undoubtedly the CEOs would be dismissive of them. And the people would think they were mad.

But the prophets would keep making their voices heard anyway. Why? Because that's what prophets do. They speak up when they see things that don't align with God's will.

I believe Christians today also have a responsibility to speak up when people, rulers or companies are doing the wrong thing. And if enough people do speak up, companies will change things. They have to. They rely on consumers for their existence. If enough consumers care, the company will soon realise it has to care as well. However, it won't realise that people do care about what it's doing if people don't speak up.

We need to be informed. We need to care. But we also need to speak. And it can make a difference.

If you're interested in knowing more about the social and environmental record of different companies, check out:

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