If companies can try to do the right thing, why is it so hard for governments? Today, more and more companies recognize that strong ethical programs and responsible corporate citizenship are key factors in building strong brands. The idea isn’t new. Lever, the precursor to today’s Unilever, was founded during the Victorian era at a time when disease and malnutrition were widespread in Britain. According to a recent profile in The Economist, William Lever’s product marketing highlighted their health benefits. He provided decent housing for his employees in a custom-build company town, the eponymous Port Sunlight. He took up causes such as state pensions for the elderly and provided schooling, healthcare and good wages at palm-oil plantations in the Congo.
Building on William Lever’s fine example, Unilever CEO Paul Polman has just launched a “Sustainable Living Plan” focused on making Unilever “the pre-eminent example of how to do capitalism responsibly.” Now cut to the example of our own Canadian government. Canada, of all nations, once renowned as a land of soaring forests — home to the largest source of freshwater on the planet — and limitless natural resources — is now the poster child for environmental waste and indifference.
Oh our Prime Minister trots off to the Arctic every summer looking for sunken ships but seems to glance right over the factors aiding in the search — melt and climate change. Seems climate change doesn’t play to his “base” according to The Globe and Mail’s Jeffery Simpson. Contrast this to the private sector with our banking institutions leading the charge with programs such as the Royal Bank’s Blue Water Project. Or reflect with envy, the fine example being set by Unilever. By 2020 it has committed to “help a billion people take steps to improve their health and well-being; halve the environmental impact of its products; and source all its agricultural raw products sustainably, meaning they should meet requirements covering everything from forest protection to pest control.” And that’s just for starters. This is called leadership.