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Can capitalism be responsible?

Some 20 years ago, when I was campaigning against GM seeds, a wise aunt advised me not to ‘demonise my foe’. Her words were in my ears last week as I was presented with the 18th Award for Responsible Capitalism by Princess Anne.

Previous winners include the heads of Unilever, BP, and Rio Tinto (foes?), as well as Divine Chocolate and Ecover. I believe the organisers and judges of this award genuinely share my desire for better business; however, I am less sure that they have the sense of urgency or the appetite for disruption that will be needed if we are to avoid blindly charging over the environmental and social cliffs that unbridled capitalism is leading us towards.

I used my three minutes in front of 200 ambassadors, lords and moneyed power brokers to give an angry speech about the failures of capitalism. We have created a system designed to make us behave irresponsibly, and then abdicated personal responsibility for our actions with the excuses that we are just ‘following the rules’, ‘doing what others do’, ‘being realistic’.

Capitalism has made it normal and acceptable to profit from destroying our collective future. Bizarrely, economists and policymakers present this paradigm as rationality; to me it seems pathologically delusional. On I went... And to my surprise, most people in the room seemed to agree. One woman told me that she knew climate change was real because she now had to walk 27 steps from her ski chalet to the retreating glacier.

I was told that ‘we need more people like you’, to which I should have replied: ‘no, we need more people like you, with options to change their ways and the power to set a better example.' I may have sowed a few seeds of doubt, but I am not holding my breath. To paraphrase the phenomenal 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, hope will only come from action.

Of course, we need both change from within and challenge from without to stand any chance of passing a habitable planet on to our grandchildren. We need approval, encouragement and bravery from our peers; shaming from our children; incentives and leadership from government; and perhaps most of all, we need positive, joyous, well-publicised examples of a plausible alternative future. I believe Riverford is one. 

    Comments

    Salington

    2 Months 1 Week

    Why more people aren't buying from organisations like Riverford I just don't know, those of us who do are hopefully doing our best to spread the word. Thank you to Guy and all at Riverford for giving us a viable alternative.

    0 Reply

    Andy Day

    2 Months 1 Week

    Beautiful to hear about - will we get a chance to see your speech as well if it was videoed? That would be even better to see and share...

    1 Reply

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    Comments Editor

    2 Months

    Hi Andy, we don't have a video of the speech however Guy covers the same points he made at the awards ceremony on his latest Rant - you can view & share it here:
    https://www.facebook.com/riverford/videos/412797189537451/

    0 Reply

    Louise Gibbs

    2 Months 1 Week

    Benefitting from surplus or making a profit should not be scorned. The problem is not sharing that profit equitably and ethically amongst those who generated it, and respecting the earth, the very soil, air and water, that makes it possible. Riverford leads the way. Thank you for assuaging my conscience to some small degree...

    0 Reply

    lindy roy

    2 Months 1 Week

    I would love to hear this speech. Could you post it on wicked leeks please?

    1 Reply

    view replies

    Comments Editor

    2 Months

    Hello Lindy, we don't have footage of the speech however Guy covers the same points he made at the awards ceremony on his latest Rant - you can view it here:
    https://www.facebook.com/riverford/videos/412797189537451/

    0 Reply

    Foweypots46

    2 Months 1 Week

    Robert Weston

    I suggest that you visit Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union if you wish to see the devastation resulting from Socialist agriculture.

    0 Reply

    jimmanson

    2 Months

    A timely and necessary intervention in this debate, Guy! Would you be happy for us - Natural Products Global - to run your piece as a guest blog post (companion piece to this?! https://www.naturalproductsglobal.com/environment/organic-must-stand-up-and-reclaim-its-disruptive-role-or-wave-good-bye-to-the-o-word/)?

    0 Reply

    Guy Singh-Watson

    Self-confessed veg nerd, Guy Singh-Watson has over the last 30 years taken Riverford from one man and a wheelbarrow delivering homegrown organic veg to friends, to a national veg box scheme delivering to around 50,000 customers a week. Guy is an opinionated and admired figure in the world of organic farming, who still spends more time in the fields than in the boardroom. Twice awarded BBC Radio 4 Farmer of the Year, Guy is passionate about sharing with others the organic farming and business knowledge he has accumulated over the last three decades. His video rants have provided a powerful platform to do this, with a video on pesticides going viral on Facebook to reach 5.6 million views and 91,000 shares. His weekly veg box newsletters connect customers to the farm with refreshingly honest accounts of the trials and tribulations of producing organic food, and the occasional rant about farming, ethical and business issues he feels strongly about. In June 2018, Guy handed over the reins of Riverford to its staff, choosing employee ownership as the model that will protect Riverford's ethical values forever and ensure the security of its employees.  

    What is responsible capitalism?

    Guy Singh-Watson on why businesses can and should do better at protecting both people and planet.

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