“Globes”, January 17th 2016

Levy was never really a social hero. The media gave him that title – unjustifiably.

In recent weeks, criticism of the businessman and owner of the Rami Levy supermarket chain has intensified. Alongside his position as the provider of the cheapest food products in Israel, it has been claimed that Rami Levy displays a severe lack of fairness primarily towards his employees and suppliers. Obviously journalistic criticism is important and if in fact, Levy did and does what is attributed to him, than it would be difficult to accept with understanding.

However, it would seem that the journalistic duty to report would not be compromised with less verbal artillery. One of the possible reasons for this artillery lies perhaps in our disappointment with someone who lit one of the Independence Day Torches, who gave us hope, who was just crowned as the new social hero of Israel.

The problem with this attitude is that Rami Levy was never really a social hero. We, the media, bestowed this title upon him, but there was never any justification for it. His business achievements may have turned him into a “consumer hero”, but not a “social hero”. A hero of consumers does everything he can to lower the prices of products and reduce costs for consumers, for the benefit of consumers only. Because right at this moment, the consumer dialogue and consumerism are still egoistical in nature.

If we are seeking businessmen who are “social heroes” as well, we must look for them among those whose commitment is comprehensive, ideological and uncompromising in relation to the wide array of players who come in contact with the business they lead.

These heroes will build corporations that, along with their commitment to providing products at fair prices for consumers, will be committed uncompromisingly to workers’ rights and fair trade with the suppliers. Those who produce their products without exploiting resources that belong to the entire population, who conduct a balanced and constructive dialogue with corporations and people who come in contact with them, people who possess commitment to, responsibility for and a high awareness of the entire society and community.

This is the stake holders’ approach, which relates to the corporation as being committed to all of the players it comes in contact with, in contrast to the stock holders’ approach, which focuses upon the controlling owners of the company.

Such corporations are not commonplace, and the dialogue around their importance is intensifying. For instance, there is a well-known standard in the US, one that is quickly becoming so in Israel as well, called B Corp, which examines the overall conduct of the corporations vis-à-vis the array of players that they come in contact with: the employees, the suppliers, the environment, the public at large and more.

Many and varied questions are examined in each area. Compliance with the B Corp standard does not mean that the corporation’s profitability is compromised. On the contrary, there are huge corporations, such as global Ben & Jerry’s, which comply with the B Corp standard and are highly profitable international corporations. Thus, there are additional successful large companied, such as Champion Motors, which are committed to an overall ethical code, and simultaneously to successful business operations, contributing millions to society and the community, emphasizing the cultivation and training of employees, hiring employees with disabilities and more. Even global Hershey’s, one of the largest chocolates company in the US, operates in a similar fashion. And there are others.

Can we revolutionize communal corporations, transforming their elitist niche culture into a normative business culture, the sort that would permeate into the cheaper food chains as well? Of course, but it would depend first and foremost upon us, the consumers. The more we internalize the fact that we have an effect every time we consume, the more we add to ourselves, to the massive chain of people and to the culture in which we live – We could also generate this quantum leap, from egotistical consumption to social consumption.

The truth is that, sooner or later, we won’t have a choice, because if we continue consuming egotistically, we will forever live on our marginalized and marginalizing sword – whether as consumers, whether as suppliers and whether as employees or the public at large – enthralled to the horrifying, eternal repetition of the social heroes’ fixed rituals, their execution in drumhead court-martials and so forth. Meaning, our social lives will not be worth living.

On the other hand, if we know how to internalize the enormously important responsibility placed upon our shoulders as consumers, and start thinking and acting upon “social consumerism”, it would become the point of contact between the consumer hero and the social hero, where the hero is not only consumerist, but social as well.

This would also be the point of contact between egotistical consumerism and social consumerism, where the consumer gets the best possible price. Perhaps it will be Rami Levy, who would regain his status as a social-consumer hero, but perhaps not. What is clear is that the business, social and consumerist life is ours; our lives here as part of a civil society, are such that they are worth living.