Leaving Your Ethics At The Door

Michelin was established in the UK in 1905 and its logo of the Michelin Man has become part of everyday language – although not always in the kindest way – and at its peak employed over 10,000 people in the UK …

how can we be authentic in business if we leave our ethics at the door?

how can we be authentic in business if we leave our ethics at the door?


However, with a very competitive market and a reduction in road haulage with less domestic manufacturing, they went through 10 – 15 years of restructuring and their workforce fell to 2,800. When Eric Le Corre took over the UK business he realised there was much ground to be gained to not only be competitive but also win back the hearts and minds of the employees who were simply waiting for the axe to fall on them.

It would have been easy to continue to cut costs and so cut across the people, but that wasn’t the type of business Michelin and Le Corre wanted. It was looking to the future, improving diversity in the workforce and having a green agenda for the products in so much as by improving the products, lorry tyres, it could be the equivalent of reducing 3.2 million cars to zero carbon emissions.

Michelin has also been working with the government on understanding that as a business their responsibility to improving manufacturing emissions is only part of the whole picture and it’s about the life cycle of the product.

Hearts and minds were won over by spending time talking, or more importantly listening, to the people in the business and working with them to build the vision for the future plus an at a glance map of the business, its work and its values.

And their Corporate Social Responsibility programme, now in its 10th year, includes road safety events, city-cycling events and a subsidiary has been set up to help small businesses create employment in areas where Michelin has a historical link with the community. Their vision is that by 2015, they will become a benchmark company in the UK and an icon for economic recovery.

Michelin are a large organisation so yes, they will have the people available for these wide-ranging projects; they have also had support from enterprise schemes and development agencies.

I’m sure they are not perfect but I’m also sure that you’d agree with me that investing in the future, working with the community and not only improving profitability but making a significant impact on the environment with the products sold is worthy of note. It shows that it’s possible to make sustainable changes. Michelin recognise that their most bankable asset is the people in the business, but it’s more than just paying lip service to that well used phrase, achieving the vision is only going to be possible if the people are truly engaged.

Much has been made of the cost of manufacturing in the UK to the extent that many businesses moved their manufacturing overseas. Very few of the clothes that we wear are made in the UK although they are likely to have been designed here.

We hear all too often of sweatshops in Asia and the Third World countries where children have been used as part of the workforce and of the atrocious conditions. Yes, perhaps our constant desire to have “better for cheaper” is driving manufacturers overseas but it shouldn’t be driving them into using children for labour – nor enabling them to flout every rule that we would see as decent for workers.

Many of the high street brands over the last couple of years have been embroiled in these findings and mostly use the excuse that it’s a third party and so they don’t have any direct responsibility. But is that really true? Wouldn’t you want to know your complete supply chain? And if the costs of one supplier were to be so much cheaper than another wouldn’t you want to know why?

These businesses simply leave their ethics at the door when it suits them. Because they are chasing every penny of profit on an item. Interestingly, the 2012 report by Lord Alliance, co-founder of the textiles group Coats Viyella, compared the costs of setting up a new-build Denim mill in Lancashire with one in China and concluded that the UK option was now viable. And the the current sterling weakness will assist exports adding to any viability.

This week, our Prime Minister is in India talking to the Indian government about trade and we are also seeking to encourage China to use London as its main currency trading point for the Remnimbi. Both countries with poor human rights records and yet we are wanting to do more and more business with them.

So as a country, can we leave our business ethics at the door when it suits us? Is having a sustainable economy, at all costs or any cost, truly sustainable and is it something that people truly want?

Yes, it is hard for the so called “zombie businesses” who are literally just about surviving, with no capital reserves and no real growth (more on those another time), but is leaving our business ethics at the door the way to help these businesses or for these businesses to help themselves?

The food industry scandal is still hot. Whilst products are being tested, more and more is being brought into the mix about chill-cooked food/processed food and the belief that buying fresh ingredients to make dishes isn’t affordable for many and the impact of these foods on the nations health. All of this is mixed in with the ethics of the manufacturers, suppliers and supermarkets.

Going back to basics in many industry sectors, reviewing values, mission and vision – considering true sustainability for the future of the business, the economy and the country as a whole will only happen will be when there is true authenticity in business. It must be led from the top down and the bottom up; after all in any business the people are always the most valuable asset.

If you’d like to find out more about anything I’ve mentioned here, then it may be a great idea to call me on +44 (0) 1296 681094, click here to ping me an email or even leave a comment below.

Until next time …

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PS … Credit given where credit is due. My research regarding Michelin and Lord Alliance was found in Director Magazine and formed the basis for this blog post.

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