SEC chief: “Neither fair trade nor organic alone = social enterprise”

Further to Mark Ellerby’s post on the Cadbury buy-out, I was interested to see today, in Peter Holbrook’s blog — he’s the new CEO at the Social Enterprise Coalition — these comments. Holbrook is referring to a recent piece in the Financial Times:

I love that the FT is writing about social enterprise, but I don’t love it when they call Green and Black’s a social enterprise.  They’re tasty and organic, but only one bar was ever fair trade and that was Maya Gold. Neither fair trade nor organic alone = social enterprise.

Holbrook goes on to make the point that for social enterprises the purpose of social change cannot be ‘discretionary’ — something that owners may choose to contribute to: “they should be fundamentally about social change”.

Speaking about the Social Enterprise Mark, which has just been relaunched as a national (rather than regional) Mark at Voice10, Holbrook says: “What I want the Mark to do is cut through the confusion and the misinformation”. It’s up to social enterprises, he concludes, to say what they are and what they believe.

Given the recent debates we have been engaged in — not least in the context of Call Britannia, in this post — I think a new leader at SEC who is setting out from day-one to establish some clarity regarding the aims, purpose and parameters of social enterprise is to be warmly welcomed.

  1. Jeff Mowatt Reply

    Indeed. A commitment to invest more in a social objective, at least 50% of profit, than distributed to shareholders was a point made in our white paper critique of conventional capitalism, which offered this:

    ‘There is nothing wrong with individuals becoming wealthy. It is only when wealth begins to concentrate in the hands of a relative few at the expense of billions of others who are denied even a small share of finite wealth that trouble starts and physical, human suffering begins. It does not have to be this way. Massive greed and consequent massive human misery and suffering do not have to be accepted as a givens, unavoidable, intractable, irresolvable. Just changing the way business is done, if only by a few companies, can change the flow of wealth, ease and eliminate poverty, and leave us all with something better to worry about. Basic human needs such as food and shelter are fundamental human rights; there are more than enough resources available to go around–if we can just figure out how to share. It cannot be “Me first, mine first”; rather, “Me, too” is more the order of the day.’

    Unfortunately into the void created by lack of funding support stepped the venture capitalists and politicians. Sir Richard Branson for example repeating the above description at Davos 12 years later.

    I read an interesting article on the JustMeans site recently that made the point that there is really no fair trade in chocolate, since our market does not permit Africans to manufacture and sell themselves, but only to be suppliers of cocoa beans..

    Like many, I noted and disagreed with the Guardian article about Rule Brittania which allowed no comments. This is once again, venture capitalism painting itself into a leading role. We see it again in the FT article Peter Holbrook refers to.

    The mainstream media offers little opportunity for social enterprise in general to express its views and I really haad to object when the Joe Public bog in the Guardian suggested they might qualify for the Social Enterprise Mark. One of their group newspapers is two years in arrears with payment to us, and for that alone I’d certainly object.

  2. Jeff Mowatt Reply

    Well I’d posted a comment on Peter Holbrook’s blog relating how I’d communicated several times with RISE-SW over the past 4 years to describe success of the ‘profit for social purpose’ I refer to above,

    I’d been trying to connect to many organisations like our APPG on Microfinance who turned down my offer to present the Tomsk initiative.

    We had the opportunity of an interview after setting up in the UK and in this our founder relates the proof of concept which came in the wake of Russia’s economic collapse and the ‘Chicago School’ approach which had preceded under the guidance of Harvard. On Peter’s blog I’d asked him why such success was being airbrushed out.

    Call Briitania is backed by venture capital and more than a little self-promotion from Sir Ronald Cohen, who refused to be question on his domicile status. We OTOH are a small but UK resident business paying tax here whille investing in social enterprise internationally.

    Interestingly on the document which describes the social impact bond, I found a reflection of our subsequent work in Ukraine which has invested in the cause of extracting economic orphans from state care.

    It would seem that venture capitalists wish to present what has already been done as something that might be done under their banner.

    The problem I have with that is this While they talk about these things as if they were new ideas, our struggle against the consequences of oligarchic capitalism are swept under the carpet. To illustrate the point, while Philanthrocapitalism was on the menu at a Davos banquet, hosted by an Ukrainian billionare, there were those dying of malnutrition.

    In spite of any accolades to endorse these efforts

    I hope that offers sufficient explanation of my anger.

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