In sport it’s referred to as “ sports- wash”. This is the use of sport by an organisation or country to launder their reputation. The latest example is the takeover of Newcastle Football Club by Saudi – led owners, controversial because of that country’s human rights record. The fact that this takeover will dominate the sports pages will bring to the attention of a wider audience how businesses do business. Raising questions like should you do business with an organisation that profits from the exploitation of employees and local communities or causing environmental damage?
Ethical dilemmas are nothing new, the government has long justified selling military hardware to repressive regimes on the grounds that not to do so would result in the loss of jobs in areas that had come to depend on the industry. But we do know that customers are better informed and in certain circumstances more willing to use their purchasing power if they feel organisations are exploiting workers and local communities.
Fair trade coffee is an example of change brought about by customer pressure. We have seen the clothing industry forced to ensure ethical sourcing following the exposure of the use of child labour. Currently we are seeing governments forced by public opinion to tackle multinationals who are not paying their fair share of tax.
But it is in the area of recruitment and retention that the way organisations do business is likely to have the most significant impact in the future. An area were many industries and business are already finding the market for young talent is very competitive. Generation Z , those born between 1997 and 2012 , are set to makeup 27% of the workforce by 2025 ( 4 years!) . They have grown up in the era of gay marriages and a black President of the US, equality and diversity is something they expect.
They want to work for an organisation that treats people fairly, that values diversity and that offers career development and career opportunities irrespective of gender,race, faith or sexuality. They expect to work for an organisation that has narrowed, if not eliminated, the gender pay gap and has black and minority employees in senior management posts. Climate change is very real to this generation so they want to know what impact the organisation is having on the environment.
These young people are idealistic as young people are but they are better informed, more aware and have higher expectations. They expect the organisations they chose to work for to have high ethical standards and demonstrating corporate social responsibility in the way they operate.
We may be a some way off the day when a high profile international footballer turns down a multimillion pound transfer to Newcastle United because they profoundly disagree with the way the owners make their money but when it happens it will be someone from generation Z.