Effective Altruism: What is it & does it work? 0 906

Effective altruism is a niche term mainly used within the humanitarian and social responsibility community, we don’t often hear it in our day to day but it is something worth exploring because it brings about a unique perspective to doing good.

 So what exactly is effective altruism?  

Effective altruism is a concept that puts forth the notion that everyone ought to not only do good but the most good they can possibly do. However, when it comes to defining what doing the most good is, Peter Singer – one of the originators of the movement – takes a very cut and dry approach. He believes that when given two choices, a person ought to choose the option that does the most good for society without consideration to your emotional needs or preference. In a perfect world this may work but humans are intrinsically imperfect and most likely will do what is morally right for them but may not be entirely ethical on a larger scale. 

An example that well explains this is that of picking a job. Following the principles of effective altruism, when deciding whether to choose a career in social work or corporate work, choosing the corporate job and donating all the money you earned would be the correct choice. This is because you’d likely be able to contribute more and have a bigger impact through donating hundreds of thousands vs impacting a few lives in the non-profit field. Although picking the high-paying corporate job may be the best choice for society, it is nowhere near as emotionally fulfilling as working in a non-profit. This is one of the biggest downsides of effective altruism, it fails to consider the emotional aspects of people. 

Although the concept is a hopeful one, it thrives off a philosophy that doesn’t understand human nature. In our capitalistic society, individuals have no obligation to do good; let alone the most good that they possibly can. Earning money takes hard work and expecting them to put aside their own emotions to do what is of the most utility for society is unfair. In this sense, effective altruism isn’t all that effective since it cannot truly be put to practice.

To bridge this gap, a happy medium needs to be found. One where individuals are doing some good, likely not the most good they could possibly do but still some good nonetheless. Integrating the practices of effective altruism with those of modern-day capitalism will not be dependent upon individuals doing the most good themselves, rather, consume products that do the most good for them. This is where a conscious capitalist model comes into practice. Imagine a world where all necessities abided by a certain standard of social responsibility. They are mandated to “do the most good”. In this world, by just buying your daily groceries, as an individual you are doing your part because most of the products you bought contribute to something bigger. This solution takes the pressure off all of us and puts it onto the large corporations who have no reason to operate out of emotion. Corporations have enough money to abide by the standards of effective altruism and are able to make cut and dry decisions to do the most good. 

“A corporate shift to incorporating this philosophy is a shift from traditional capitalism to conscious capitalism”

So does effective altruism actually work? Yes and no. No, it doesn’t work for individuals – it is just not possible to get individuals to abandon their emotional and human nature to do the most good they possibly can. However, it does serve as a considerable starting ground for further thought on how individuals should approach doing good. If tweaked to fit into the corporate world, yes, effective altruism can work to create an equitable world where individuals are doing good in their everyday practices. A corporate shift to incorporating this philosophy is a shift from traditional capitalism to conscious capitalism, something we are already slowly seeing. But can this system ever work, or is it too optimistic to believe that corporations will ever work to do the most good?

What do you think?

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Can The Beauty Industry Ever Be Ethical? 0 1525

The beauty industry has been a permanent feature in the business market for as long as most of us can remember. Different industries may be more popular from time to time but the constant that prevails is the need for individuals to be beautiful. From graphic eyeliner to a bejewelled brow and an over-lined lip, we have seen beauty trends change and expand to the times we live. As these trends change, so does the messaging behind them. In the fifties it was all about glamour with Marilyn Monroe-esque makeup, in the early 2000s it was more about embodying the pop stars of the decade, with glossy lips and glittery eyes. Now in 2020, makeup trends have adapted to embracing our own beauty, with beauty icons like Rihannah and the Hadid sisters. In these ‘woke’ times, it is not about using makeup to cover up or look different, but rather about enhancing what is already there. 

This shift in messaging comes about at a time where women are more empowered than ever before. Society is pushing back on the patriarchal notions of beauty while supporting more ethical and sustainable products. More companies are going green with vegan and cruelty-free makeup lines, while makeup artists opt for artistic looks vs the typical caked on cover-up trends we’ve seen for many years. However, the question stands: can an industry that is significantly based on exploiting the insecurities of (mostly) women ever truly be ethical? 

To decipher this issue and unpack it would take essays upon essays because it is deeply historical. Tracing back to the time of the Egyptians, how can we truly understand why makeup even became something that we cared about? How did it come to a point where so many of us feel like we can’t be seen without it? How has billions upon billions of dollars been made from something that is seemingly frivolous and unimportant? Is it the patriarchy? Is it just the way history has evolved? It’s hard to place what allowed it to come to this point but regardless of that fact, here we are.

For the beauty industry to survive it requires people to feel as if they are not enough without these products. If the majority of society felt good about how they looked without what these companies sell, it would be unlikely that the market could exist to the extent that it does now. It is ingrained within us that when a woman leaves her home to participate in society, she does so having her hair and makeup done to a certain preordained standard. If this standard didn’t exist then would the industry thrive the way it does? Unlikely. 

In addition to the insecurity-breeding standard that has been perpetuated by the beauty industry, there is also the issue of how these products are created and tested. In the past, animal testing and mass-production had been the norm. As consumers, we accept these practices because alternatives were scarce and knowledge of the damage was not widespread. However, we yet again see how the influence of social media has allowed information to be disseminated to a widespread audience and consumers becoming more mindful on the production of their favourite cosmetics.

When it comes to such a historical industry that dates back to days of Cleopatra and the French Court, it is hard to truly decide what constitutes an ethical beauty industry and a non-ethical one. The progress we’ve seen in messaging gives us hope that eventually society will move to embrace more body and beauty positivity with makeup being a tool for embracing what we already have. To answer the question, can the beauty industry ever truly be ethical – Yes, but it is going to take a long time and a lot of reconditioning for us to get there. 

What do you think?

Activism In Business 0 984

With the current global climate, it has become more and more necessary for companies to engage with social activism, or at least stand in solidarity with them. From Black Lives Matter to the climate change movement, it has become apparent that society is no longer going to sit silently over issues they are passionate about. We are seeing that the rise of the conscious consumer has led to more and more businesses adopting social responsibility practices, while also being more vocal about the causes that surround them. But is the idea of activism in business truly idiosyncratic? How can business, the root of the capitalist agenda, work to amend and tear down the systems in which they thrive from.

There is a distinction between corporate social responsibility and activism in business that needs to be noted. Corporate social responsibility – CSR – is when a business either operates in a way that is in the best interest of not just their shareholders but their stakeholders at large or when a business has a variety of programmes or charitable organisations that they donate to in order to support the community. It can be intrinsic to their business practices or it can exist in addition to the more traditional ways of running a business. Either way, it can be categorised under CSR. Activism in business on the other hand is when a business publicly shows their solidarity with a certain social movement ‘aimed at building awareness about a particular issue while also promoting a positive corporate message’ (the conversation). It is when businesses take clear stances on these sometimes challenging and polarising issues. It can also work in a way to brand the company in favour of public opinion but depending on the stance they take, it can garner some negative feedback from the public.

A great example we often turn to is Ben & Jerry’s – a gold star in social responsibility, Ben & Jerry’s continue to set the bar on how to approach their community in a conscious and caring way. Putting aside their business practices, Ben & Jerry’s are not afraid to take a stand for the things they believe in. They unapologetically create ice-cream flavors rooted in activism with design to match, they march with climate change activists and continue to advocate for responsible business practices within Unilever. These beliefs and standards are the heart of the company; with Ben and Jerry themselves literally protesting and getting arrested at various rallies. Customers choose their brand over others not only because they have a great product, but also because they share the same values. 

Photo Credit: Ben & Jerry’s

Ben & Jerry’s doesn’t shy away from the hard conversation; after the wrongful and inhumane murder of George Floyd, they didn’t choose the easy route of solidarity by posting a black square on Instagram. Rather, they released a lengthy statement calling for the dismantling of white supremacy and addressing the issue head on. It is jarring to see a company that most associate with light-hearted sweet treats get so serious and so real about these complicated, historical and difficult issues. No one expects an ice-cream company to take a clear, hard stance – but if they are willing to stand up for what’s right, why not the other companies? Why didn’t we see this level of activism from brands across the board?

The Music Industry 

After pressure from both artists and the public, we saw big record labels put a lot of money into the cause. Warner Music pledged $100million, Sony Music matched that amount, Universal Music pledged $15million and after an employee publicly shamed them for not contributing, Spotify pledged $10million. Although this is a significant amount of money, it is a drop in the bucket of what these companies make. For years and years, production houses have profited and benefitted from black artists, but when the time came to stand up for a cause that directly affects the clients in which millions are made from, they did the bare minimum. Donating money to causes does help, but when you are the benchmark of an industry it is your responsibility to take care of the community you often profit from. Structural changes and business policies are what they really need to address. Giving your company a hard look and owning the prejudices and inequality you allow to thrive is how you truly advocate for a cause. Donating big money and making empty promises is a way to appear on the right side of history without actually putting in the work. 

Photo Credit: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

It can be argued that it is easy to be political when you’re an ice-cream company vs a huge music corporation; but that is exactly the point. Activism isn’t something that is easy, it is uncomfortable and difficult. It is pushing the boundaries that are so rooted in the structures that surround us. It’s never inappropriate to stand up for what’s right and through this corporate climate of always trying to stay neutral, companies may lose favour with consumers who are carefully observing. 

Aside from recent events, over the past few years we have seen brands becoming increasingly political. Brands are well aware that they can no longer sit silently but shallow participation will only get you so far. As time carries on, consumers will not tolerate social media campaigns and one-off donations. They want to see structural change, representation in the board of directors and corporate practices that promote activism in its nature. This is only the beginning and if companies do not dive in deep and take a hard look at their policies, more and more consumers will opt out of their businesses.

In Malaysia, activism looks a lot different than it does in the West. We don’t have the same freedom that they do to say exactly what we feel – freedom of speech just doesn’t exist to that extent in our country. When we look back on one of the biggest and more popularised movements – the Bersih rallies that happened from 2007 aimed at ending the historically corrupt elections, there was zero public support from corporations and businesses.

They were afraid.

They were afraid of alienating the majority of the population.

They were afraid of how the government would respond and reprimand them.

They were afraid of what would happen of what would happen to their brand. 

In 2007, this lack of private-sector support could be tolerated, understood even. The world we lived in then was much different than the world we live in now. Social media had not yet come about and fear-based politics were the main tactic of the government. But in 2020, when Malaysia has been given freedom of the press and more freedom of speech than ever before, why do companies still refuse to take a firm stance on the issues our nation faces?

Photo Credit: New Straits Times

Around the same time that the Black Lives Matter hashtag was trending on social media, the issue of police brutality amongst Indians in Malaysia was brought to light. Mangai Balasegaram wrote in The Star, about how Malaysian Indians “account for almost one in four deaths in police custody, despite making up only 7% of the population”. It is a shocking fact, most of us didn’t even know that this was an issue in our country. More and more stories came to light on social media and people started to educate themselves, sharing stories and opinions across their platforms. It is not a straight-line parallel to what happens in America, but it sure is close. Despite this, we yet again saw no companies sharing support on this matter. NGOs and non-profits were the only ones taking it upon themselves to disseminate the information to the public.

One company that tried to foster a more light-hearted “One Malaysia” sentiment was Cadbury, but they failed to include a single Indian person in their ad aimed at celebrating everyday Malaysians. It is almost comical that in their efforts to bring about some positivity in these trying times, they left out an entire community and the injustices that they faced. Considering it was the main topic of conversation amongst the socially aware population. But it is the perfect metaphor to how business activism in Malaysia has been practiced – semi-well intentioned, badly executed and always erring on the side of neutrality. 

Malaysia has a long way to go in terms of activism in business, but what the past year has taught us is that more and more of the community is becoming increasingly socially-minded. It is not just a Western concept but one that is only growing in need and popularity in Malaysia as well.  We cannot predict what the future will bring us – none of us were prepared for the upheaval of daily life from Covid-19 or that the outrage from George Floyd’s murder would lead us all the way on the other side of the world to re-examine the treatment of our own people. What we can predict is that if corporations stick to their classical ways of operations and do not take a stand where a stand is necessary, they will lose favour with the growing population of conscious consumers. But will they grow obsolete? 

 What do you think?

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