Goodwill is not just for Christmas: it’s time to stand up to hate

This is a year that will undoubtedly go down in the history books.

A little over a week ago, a man who preaches hate – hate for women, hate for Mexicans, hate for Muslims, hate for ‘the other’ – was elected as president of the United States. A few months earlier, Britain watched as half its population voted to turn its back on the EU. Choosing isolation and nationalism instead. Right wing extremism is on the rise. Refugees fleeing Syria – a country in the midst of a horrific civil war – are being left stateless. Countless countries are closing their doors, refusing help to those who most desperately need it.

2016 is a year I would rather see erased from the history books. It has not been a good year.

Every November, John Lewis releases a beautifully produced Christmas advert that sets the tone for the festive season. Goodwill to all mankind. Warm fuzzy feelings all around. And these advertisements help to influence our opinions on John Lewis – most people see this as an ethical, forward-thinking brand. They’re employee owned and in their principles, they vow to ‘obey the spirit as well as the letter of the law and to contribute to the wellbeing of the communities where [they] operate’. Their Christmas adverts bring even the steeliest among us to tears.

But John Lewis – and countless other retailers who claim to have high ethical standards –  advertise in The Daily Mail, The Sun and the Daily Express. Newspapers which have been instrumental in propagating racism, bigotry, misogyny and nationalism and in doing so giving power and legitimacy to people like Nigel Farage and Donald Trump. Newspapers which have given legitimacy to hate.

A new campaign, ‘Stop Funding Hate’ is seeking to address this. It’s encouraging businesses to put their money where their mouth is and start living the values and ethical standards that they claim to uphold by ending their advertising relationships with these publications.

There are signs that the campaign is starting to take a foothold. LEGO recently announced that they would no longer be running toy giveaways in the Daily Mail and the Co-operative Group will be reviewing its advertising policies in the coming year. But why aren’t more businesses coming forward and making this choice? In his article in The Spectator Brendan O’Neill makes the argument that doing so is an act of censorship rather than ‘a cry for tolerance’.

John Lewis has indicated that they support this position, saying that they ‘never make an editorial judgment on a particular newspaper’. But is this really an editorial judgment?

To my mind, this is first and foremost an issue of ethics. You can’t be ethical on a part time basis. If you say you intend to ‘contribute to the wellbeing of the communities in which you operate’ (John Lewis) or ‘make a positive difference in our community’ (Sainsbury’s), then this should underpin all the decisions you take as a business.

Advertising in newspapers that preach hate isn’t ethical. Now more than ever, we need to act. We need to be brave. We need to speak up against intolerance. As business leaders, we have a huge amount of influence in our communities – it’s time to stand up to hate.

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Posted on 21st November 2016 in Culture&Leadership
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