business corporate responsibility development events

Peace through commerce – business as a force for good

“Listen, most people start out with the idea that large businesses are bad” says Walter Robb. “We need to start right there. And many businesses have behaved badly. They’ve been very narrowly focused on profit, they haven’t looked to their wider responsibility, and they’ve stuck their head in the sand over things they have done rather than be accountable.”

Robb is President of Whole Foods, the world’s largest retailer of natural and organic foods, with 270 stores across the US and now the UK. It’s a company that has stood by a rare set of values, to farm sustainably, share profits equitably, and build relationships with suppliers. At first glance at least, it’s practically the anti-tesco. They don’t get everything right of course, (they’ve drawn criticism for stocking out of season vegetables or air-freighting food for example) but in terms of direction, Whole Foods have a much broader mission than your average retailer.

“Business needs to step up and recognise that it can change things,” says Robb. “Business can create change in ways that non-profits can’t do. Non profits have the idealism, but they don’t have the ability or the funds in the ways that businesses do.”

In November Robb will share this broader vision at the Peace through Commerce conference, an intiative from the Flow organisation. I’ve joined Robb on a conference call with Michael Strong and Jeff Klein from Flow, along with bloggers from the Huffington Post, Fair Trade Resource Network, Consumption Rebellion and Audeamus. It’s a great conversation about fairtrade, the opportunity to create sustainable peace in a region by creating co-operative partnerships, and even one of my personal passions about the fairtrade world – how to create value in-country.

Unfortunately, I was phoning across the Atlantic and everybody was very quiet, and then the neighbours started shooting fireworks. I missed the end of the conversation… Eileen at Consumption Rebellion has a more useful summary, but I leave you with Robb’s own vision for the conference:

“What we’re trying to do is create a conversation about how consumers can think differently about business, and how business can think differently about their role and responsibility in the world.”

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