Riots and the Business Community

I’ve left a bit of time before putting digit to keyboard on this one, because sometimes you need to think things through. Having lived and worked in several of the areas in London where rioting occurred (no I don’t think there’s any connection) my initial reaction was one of “Oh no, not again!” On reflection however, there appears to be little real connection between the riots in Toxteth and Brixton back in the Eighties to recent events.

Much of the action seemed to be criminally motivated or thrill-seeking, and often involving people that could hardly be described as under-privileged or even young. Rioters were not exclusively linked by ethnicity or even area. And of course there are no excuses for anyone taking part.

But there are reasons and business people need to consider whether they have contributed to those reasons or whether they are doing anything that might make the situation better.

We have an underclass in society for whom the possibility of achievement through educational attainment and hard work is a meaningless concept. Whether that is the result of deprivation, poverty, poor education or parenting is another question but for the vast majority in that position, there are very limited legitimate opportunities for advancement.

At the same time, they are exposed to the same aspirational marketing as the rest of society and have the same desires for the brand names, flat screens, fast cars and general bling that commercial consumerism is only too eager to thrust before us. Little wonder then, when the BMW driving, bling plastered drug dealer or their less conspicuous and more successful counterparts become the new role model. Or how about we become the next X factor winner regardless of talent or skill level? Get rich quick and easy is the modern mantra. I have honestly interviewed youngsters whose genuine answer to career choice, regardless of ability is “be a celebrity.”

And who can say that’s an invalid point of view when we are prepared to pay obscene bonuses to perhaps very clever people ( though I doubt it) who successfully manage to re-channel wealth without actually creating any? And then somehow lose it all again. Speculation on a grand scale, gambling with other people’s money is our highest paid profession. What kind of a lesson is that for our young? How about investing some of bonus culture in the next generation who once again will have to make things, invent things and develop meaningful skills.

So what can business do to help change things? Firstly I think we need to recognise that the vast majority of young people regardless of their education are smart, bright, tech savvy decent human beings who need a break. What can we do to create some opportunities?

Next, let’s have a think about our marketing messages. Are they really legal decent truthful and honest? Or am I still pretending that my brand of aftershave is irresistibly appealing to the opposite sex? Will my products make you smart, successful and sexy with no effort on your part?

Maybe we can offer role models who can demonstrate that hard work really can pay off- and is infinitely more rewarding than looting a telly from PC World. Careers advice and information from people who’ve been there and done it would be nice. Any ideas welcome.

To the people in Tottenham and Enfield where I used to work who have been affected by the riots, I wish you every success in rebuilding and I think we’ve all seen signs of a positive community response to the troubles. To the perpetrators, I am happy to see the book thrown at them – but hopefully attached to a bit of positive learning.

Nice to see no rioting in Sheffield or Chesterfield this time round but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a job to do. And that means you too Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg.

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