Today I had a call with Vuyo, my friend and collaborator in South Africa. We caught up on our lives over the past few weeks and months, relatives, kids, homeschooling and online learning and of course: business. The in-person shopping has dwindled but online sales are up significantly in the US and around the world. The issue is that every brand has shifted to digital and social media so to break through the clutter and noise of the big dogs is ruff (see what I did there?). But you can still be an ethical and values-driven business - if you want to be.
Vuyo told me about an opportunity she had to design and sell diaper bags to a local hospital in Johannesburg. She is a beautiful designer and although I've never seen the bag she designed I know it was sure to be stylish and functional. Handmade is so much better than cheap.
The diaper bags were delivered and the client was very happy with the products. They wanted to order more and for a small business re-orders are thrilling. Here's where the issue, ethics and values pieces come into play. The hospital did not pay the balance for the initial order and would only reorder with a significant reduction in cost. Let me repeat - the hospital did not pay the remaining balance due for the first order and have now walked away from it.
To be cost-conscious and on-budget is important, don't get me wrong. But to refuse payment is unethical and disingenuous. It is not good business sense to not pay your debts. In South Africa there is a different level of corporate conduct and awareness that even if you are unscrupulous you most likely will not be held accountable due to a society less inclined to sue. Companies get away with lots of things that they shouldn't.
But here's the backstory. There are always those behind-the-scenes that feel the pinch when things go bad. Many times large orders are outsourced in order to get the job done on time which means that the hardworking women that Vuyo hired to do the handwork need to get paid a living wage for each piece they produce. Women are hired and paid an agreed upon sum and are lucky to get the work that fits with their availability and other responsibilities. When the hospital decided they were not going to pay the bill, the women either cannot get paid their wages, or Vuyo will need to pay them from her own pocket. Either way these are livelihoods that rest in the balance. Rather than think of the few cents per item you want to save, think of the woman who has worked to earn a decent living for herself and her kids and relatives that rely on her. The aunts, uncles and cousins that may be living with her because they are out of work themselves.
Don't get me wrong. South African businesses can also be ethical and do the right thing to support their citizens, but like all countries, there are those that are only looking out for themselves. Why do we place our trust in those larger corporations that we assume are worthy? Relationships are extremely important and we need to find those people that are true to their word.
I challenge all of us to be that person whose actions and behavior set the best example of how to do business and treat others with respect. Whether you live in America, South Africa or any other nation, you matter and should strive to do the right thing because you never know who you may be helping.
In Humble Gratitude,