Words by Bill, 24
In our modern-day economy, businesses have suddenly had to deal with a new kind of pressure to satisfy consumers. Poor politics and ill-advised marketing leads to wholesale boycotts as customers take a stand against laundering dirty money used to underpay staff, harbour exclusionary sentiments, or trivialise civil liberties.
So why are so many of the biggest companies still getting away with it?
The governing body of the most popular sport in the world – and arguably the world’s most prestigious sporting event – has never exactly been known to give much weight to fairness in its dealings.
Yet at the World Cup earlier this year that didn’t stop FIFA’s attempts to clamp down on fans at the tournament chanting homophobic slurs. The chanting of homophobic slurs by Mexican fans at the tournament resulted in FIFA handing down a $10,000 fine to the Mexican Football Association. Even Football Federation Australia (FFA) copped a warning for similar behaviour from four of its 6000 travelling fans, though curiously FFA didn’t seem to know too much about it.
On the surface, FIFA’s low tolerance stance on discrimination from football fans seems a commendable one but as I continued to watch games and see FIFA President Gianni Infantino sitting and chatting amicably with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the whiff of hypocrisy stung my nostrils.
Among a raft of heinous actions committed and legislation passed in Putin’s name over the past two decades includes an ‘anti-propaganda’ law designed to oppress LGBT+ people in Russia. Russia’s history of such oppression started long before Putin, to be fair. Same-sex relationships were only decriminalised in 1993, and homosexuality was only declassified as a mental illness in 1999.
The peak of homophobia in Russia was reached in Chechnya just last year though, when an unknown number of gay and bisexual men were detained and tortured, and many were killed as part of a ‘purge.’ Yet none of this seemed to deter FIFA from injecting an estimated $1.5 billion into this country’s economy.
LGBT football fans will have to brace once more in four years’ time when Qatar, a country with a similarly chequered history of human’s rights abuses, will host the World Cup.
Most would know better than to expect any decency from an organization as powerful as FIFA and it seems even closer to home the average consumer can sniff out when businesses attempt to disguise sheer opportunism as philanthropy – or, if you’ll pardon the pun, faux-lanthropy.
Nearly as egregious a play on words is ANZ’s ‘GAYTMs.’ Introduced in 2014, ANZ’s promotion coincides with the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras and sees a number of ATMs brightly decorated in rainbow flags and other LGBT+ iconography. Some ANZ branches in New Zealand have been the target of protests though, with LGBT+ activists decrying the ‘pinkwashing’ of ANZ among numerous other companies.
Now in recent months as the royal commission into the major banks uncovers poor, sometimes even illegal, practices we have seen PR scramble to keep their reputation intact. One such example is Westpac’s series of ads set to a stirring rendition of David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ with people helping each other out in different situations because ‘that’s what Australians do.’ Not pictured is a banker trying to kick a chronically ill pensioner out of her own home.
Sometimes it just seems like businesses don’t actually know how to do the right thing. Supermarket giant Coles’ back-flipping policy on the banning of plastic bags has been equal parts clumsy and acrobatic. Following suit from main rival Woolworths, forgetful customers would have to cough up a measly 15c to purchase a reusable bag at the checkout. That was until some customers kicked up a stink and now in the interim reusable bags are being handed out for free, potentially causing more harm than the single-use bags they were replacing. Mere weeks after this debacle, Coles is now handing out useless hunks of plastic for every $30 spent. More embarrassing still, some are profiting tenfold on these so-called ‘collectables.’
So it still seems the onus remains with the consumer to stand up for social justice. Through boycotts and calling out self-serving opportunism, we continue to set the standard. Before long, goodwill will be good business.