Follow Suit deals with the uncomfortable truths that big corporations choose to disguise or ignore. The companies that would rather employ children than pay a full wage. That would rather undercut ecological resources by buying cheaper than ensure environmental sustainability. That would prefer to turn water into a commodity, knowing that people rely on it to survive, rather than allowing it to remain accessible to all.
There are many examples of companies making blundering decisions to make profit return faster, easier and cheaper, without concern for the eventual outcomes.
Well known and loved brand Cadbury was a company that showed dedication to providing quality products and was serious about exercising social responsibility, with hard work put into their commitment to Fairtrade, being the first chocolate brand to become Fairtrade certified. When the company was taken over by US conglomerate Kraft in 2010 these values were lain to waste. Jobs were instantly at stake and redundancies followed fast. After the takeover one of the companies plants, the Somerdale factory near Bristol, was closed despite promises that the factory would continue to operate. 500 jobs were lost in the closure without an eyelid batted.
Eventually Kraft went on to drop the commitment to Fairtrade that Cadbury had worked so hard for and been so proud of. While this seems like yet another stab in the back for Cadbury’s, it has much wider implications. A commitment to Fairtrade (https://www.fairtrade.org.uk/What-is-Fairtrade) promises not to use child labour, which in many cases leads to children in poor countries being unable to obtain an education and having to suffer poor working conditions. It also means that the farmers who earn their living growing and selling cocoa beans are being paid a fair amount for their work and their produce. Cadbury’s chocolate is sold in 40 countries worldwide, and had a $3 billion net revenue in 2016, which shows that Kraft abandoning their dedication to ethical practice has a worldwide effect. More children are being subject to forced work, and more farmers in the poorest areas of the world are being hard hit by the sudden cut in their pay.
This abandonment of social responsibility may make Kraft’s products cheaper to produce and enlarge their profit margin (they haven’t made Dairy Milks cheaper have they?) but what effect does it have on people and the planet?
Another, much more measurable, abandonment of responsibility is the fire at Grenfell Tower last year, for which justice is still being fought. 71 residents died in the fire which left more than 100 families homeless, many of whom are still in emergency accommodation waiting to be rehoused. Because of the number of casualties and the unprecedented speed with which the building was soon engulfed by flames, an investigation of the fire is underway, an investigation that is considering charges of manslaughter, corporate manslaughter, misconduct of public office and breaches of fire safety legislation.
The company who undertook a refurbishment of the building a year before, not only outsourced to many other companies along the way, but cut costs when it came to potentially lifesaving elements of the build, such as the buildings outer cladding, which is a likely reason that the fire spread so rapidly. Other cost saving corners were also cut, such as the decision not to install sprinklers to the flats, which according to the director of the Fire Protection Association would have undoubtedly saved lives. Head of the Fire Safety Group, Ronnie King argues that these preventable fires are allowed to happen by ministers who don’t want to regulate safety precautions as they add a “burden” to businesses. This implies that they are more concerned about profit margins than public safety.
This all leads to the question, do we really care more about saving and making money that we do about human life?
Another infuriating question is; why does it take an event like the Grenfell Tower fire before the governing bodies responsible for these life-threatening choices are held accountable for their neglected responsibilities? These decisions were made by someone, and these decisions had fatal effects. Someone signed off the cheaper cladding, someone allowed for sprinklers to be an optional safety precaution rather than a required measurement (and in desperation for a scapegoat, some people actually tried to blame the man who owned the fridge suspected of starting the blaze!)
It also is haunting to wonder, if the profit margin for the development of the Grenfell Tower had been higher, would this have happened? If it had been a luxury build these corners wouldn’t have been cut – because just imagine if all the families that suffered and perished in the fire at Grenfell had been rich. And if it had been a luxury build, and these corners had been cut, and those that died had been rich; justice probably would have been served by now.
Why is it that those effected were the poorest, and why is it that they have to fight so hard for justice? And why is it that the culprits of the corporate manslaughter are still getting away with their mistakes?
Silent Faces are an integrated theatre company creating brave, ridiculous, unique and challenging devised theatre. Our show, Follow Suit runs from 7-11 March, and tackles the dark and chaotic world of high finance.