These two things are true to (I hope) most people:
1. The world, though it’s a great place, could be vastly improved.
2. We gotta make a living.
It is so often assumed that the first, in its calls on our time and energy, is mutually exclusive from the second. Further than that, popular perception dictates that it is somehow distasteful or even immoral to see people making money out of improving the world. The idea that the third sector should be purely voluntary isn’t just unfair and illogical, it’s having a potentially devastating effect on the way the third sector is able to operate.
The desire to improve the world should pervade every moment of one’s being, from decisions at work to choices at the supermarket. It’s about supporting the local newsagent because they don’t force staff onto zero hour contracts. Or choosing not to embark on a range of tax avoidance schemes in our own accounting systems, because actually we do broadly agree with the idea of taxation and redistribution.
Of course, it’s not always that easy; it’s a popular paradox that one attempt at do-gooding often hinders another. I try to buy my goods at the corner shop but that means I can’t buy the Fairtrade products that are available at the supermarket. And sometimes, the barrier to achievement of a principled choice involves just too much sacrifice. The main thing is, not giving up on the war because a battle has been lost. It may well be easier to make unethical choices and waylay guilt by dropping a couple of quid in the nearest collection box but that type of zero sum thinking is never going to achieve true social justice.
As a society I think that we’re becoming more conscious of being ethical consumers. However, the idea of being ethical in the workplace or, conversely, allowing the purely ethical realm to also act as a workplace (ie. pay people for their labours) is proving difficult to take hold. True social justice will never be achieved by charitable donations and the odd voluntary hour.
Surely the dream is that every corporate body exists to achieve both of my first principles. It employs people to make the world a better place and do other stuff alongside. The capitalist notion that corporate necessarily equates to profit driven protects the immoral acts of our current conglomerates.
We should demand more of our companies and organisations. A company may count as a person but it doesn’t have a mind, or a conscience, of its own. If every single one of us entered the workplace with the sort of mindset with which we think about social justice our businesses would be better. And if in turn we allowed our third sector to let people make money from what they do, the third sector would be a more effective place. Our current attitude of reserving profit for profit-driven is allowing the big corporates to get away with murder and limiting the needy to a handful of coppers, left in the bottom of our purses.