Why Your Company Should Occupy Wall Street

Ten years ago, the very first issue of Ethical Corporation magazine showed a picture of anti-globalisation protesters in Genoa on its front cover. The caption read “Would you like this to happen outside your HQ?” The argument was that companies needed to be more responsible to avoid attack. Today, to point to social unrest as cause for more CSR in its current form would be completely missing the point. Because unless there are systemic changes to economic governance, the very basis of a stable economy is under threat. So today, the question should be “Can your company afford not to support the protests?”

Ethical Corporation cover, Dec 2001

Over the past 16 years working in CSR I’ve sought to encourage and apply a “movement mentality”. We need to be clear that we are working as a social movement to transform all business and finance. So these times of instability require us to discuss with each other about how to have a far greater systemic effect than we currently have. They require us to look deeper into our own sectors and how they contribute to systemic problems, and could contribute to systemic solutions. For instance, can people in responsible investment continue to consider the realm of high-frequency trades and derivatives to be beyond their concern? Why accept impotence if you entered finance to have a greater impact?

Having difficult conversations with colleagues is essential if we are to see deeper change that matches the challenges of economic governance today. Having unusual conversations with those outside our normal professional community is also now critical – listening to critics who are engaged in Occupy Wall Street and other campaigns is key. Learning together in this way, we may discover a more systemic agenda for our work, and begin healing capitalism. For your employees to learn in this way, they will need to get out of the office, and onto the streets. That’s why your company needs to Occupy Wall Street.

Occupy Wall Street protest in Oregon

My own journey in CSR has led me to an understanding of systemic flaws, some of which are described in my book The Corporate Responsibility Movement. One systemic flaw I overlooked for too long is our monetary system. Beneath the financial and environmental crises lies a hidden crisis in the way our money is created. The way private banks create about 97% of our money as debt, out of nothing, and charge interest on it. That monetary policy choice is a cancer at the heart of our economies, meaning that our real economy, and our real wealth found in our environment and communities, is chewed up to service compound interest on perpetual debt. I explained in my TEDx talk in Rome last month that the solutions involve both monetary reform and scaling complementary currencies. Although many of the protesters’ initial demands are fairly mainstream reforms of banking and political process, discussions about the underlying causes of the current crises are happening and new initiatives around monetary reform are springing up.

Initially it may seem difficult to see how companies can usefully engage in these issues. But I believe they can. All forms of business can begin to accept complementary currencies as payment, and offer to pay their employees partly in a complementary currency. Mobile phone companies can help scale complementary currencies through collaborating on sms payment systems. Retail banks can open accounts in complementary currencies. All firms can integrate complementary currencies into their philanthropy and community engagement. Firms can switch their accounts to banks who practise full reserve banking, such as the JAK members bank. Firms can encourage local governments to issue their own mutual credit systems, and for all governments to tax transactions in complementary currencies in such currencies, not national money. Firms can also back campaigns for ending fractional reserve banking, such as Positive Money, in the UK.

Responsible companies should back protests for fundamental economic reform, both for commercial reasons and as an expression of the shared concerns of their stakeholders.

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Find the full article by Jem Bendell at the Lifeworth website.

Jem Bendell is the Director of Lifeworth Consulting and co-originator of the Finance Innovation Lab. He is author of Healing Capitalism (Greenleaf Publishing, forthcoming) as well as The Corporate Responsibility Movement, which records and analyses key events in the development of the corporation, 2001-2005.

Buy The Corporate Responsibility Movement direct from Greenleaf Publishing and get an extra 10% reduction on top of any existing discount. Use voucher code crmdec at checkout. Offer ends 31st December.

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