So first I want to thank a friend of mine; I was looking for a hashtag to use on twitter for ethical business (it appears #ethical is what people are using) and a friend of mine pointed me to this page on Ethical Business. I thought it was great and from there found a link to an article on TOMS expanding into coffee.
TOMS, if you’re not familiar, is famous for having created the one-for-one model: for every pair of shoes they sell, they give away a pair of shoes.
Obviously, I think this is brilliant. Perfect karmic management; if you want something for yourself, give it away to other people.
But TOMS hit a snag:
While garnering media praise, TOMS has come under considerable criticism from the aid workers. Critics argue that giving away shoes is at best only a temporary fix to much deeper problems and at worst damaging to local businesses.
“TOMS Shoes is a good marketing tool, but it’s not good aid,” said former aid worker and blogger Saundra Schimmelpfennig.
So what’s going on here? Doesn’t the first law of seeds say that seeds are definite? How can something good come from something bad? In Christian terms, why do we say “the path to hell is paved with good intentions?”
As in all such sayings, there is a kernel of truth, I think. It is true that nothing bad can come from something good. But is that really what’s going on here?
For example, is it a good thing to give away shoes and undercut local businesses? Would that be a good seed? But that is, at least in part, one of the seeds that was planted. If I charge in and give away shoes, without considering the larger impact of what I’m doing, would you call that a good seed or a bad seed?
If I were to write it out as a syllogism, it might look something like:
Consider my act of giving,
It will produce only good results,
If I write “Because my intentions are good” I would answer “your reason is not established” (fails test #1). How good are your intentions if you never bothered to figure out the impact of what you’re doing? Wishful thinking does not necessarily translate into good intentions. If you really had good intentions, you would do the work and investigate the impact of what you’re doing.
Unfortunately, many times “doing the right thing” is not as simple as just giving something away. Again, in the Christian context, it’s better to teach someone to fish than to give them a fish.
So the exciting thing about this article is it appears TOMS has figured this out; for their next venture–coffee-rather than giving away free coffee, they’re partnered with an organization that can scale to provide water to people in need through sustainable investments.
I love it; I’m so excited for them. Giving is an art, and we all have to practice it to get better at it.