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Book cover for Ethical Chic: The Inside Story of the Companies We Think We Love, by Fran Hawthorne
Book cover for Ethical Chic: The Inside Story of the Companies We Think We Love, by Fran Hawthorne

Business ethics and sunbathing can mix

The Life: Some companies profit from their reputation for treating people and the planet well. But do they deserve their reputation? Fran Hawthorne's new book, Ethical Chic, examines six in an effort to find out.

A positive business image, as Northwestern University's Richard Honack is quoted as saying in Ethical Chic, "is hard to gain and very easy to lose".

Take Monsoon, a UK fashion retailer whose self-trumpeted fair trade values were compromised by the 2010 admission it used suppliers in India who employed child labour and paid workers below the minimum wage.

Such revelations stick in shoppers' minds and are proof ethical consumerism has become an important consideration for companies.

So much so, some companies clearly profit from a reputation for treating people and the planet well.

Ethical Chic examines six of them to see whether the label is well deserved. All of the brands looked at - Tom's of Maine, Timberland, Starbucks Coffee, Apple, Trader Joe's and American Apparel - are based in the United States.

And, while not all of them will be familiar to readers living in the UAE, it would be difficult to find someone here who does not know at least two on the list.

Besides, the book gives a good rundown about the brands' history in a breezy, easy to read style - no mean feat for such a heavy topic.

Each chapter charts a different company's story, including evidence for and against whether they deserve their ethical reputation, before concluding with a final judgement.

Hawthorne, an author and freelance writer based in the US who has written for The National, succeeds in the aim she sets out for the book.

She gives companies credit where it is due - such as Starbucks' sales of fair-trade coffee.

But she also points out their weaknesses, such as Starbucks' "willingness to let consumers believe that a lot more of the coffee is fair trade than it really is".

Business books are not ordinarily known for being "beach-reading friendly" but Ethical Chic is a lot more accessible than some in the genre.

Plus, you might even gain the respect of your fellow sunbathers for reading about such a chic topic.

gduncan@thenational.ae

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