Saturday, July 1, 2017

Food for Thought: Global Markets, Global Brands, and the #Nuclearban

The negotiations on a global nuclear weapons ban are moving inexorably to conclusion at the United Nations.

By coincidence, the US -- the great #nuclearban refusenik -- will celebrate Independence Day this week, just as the negotiations are wrapping up. So it seems like a good moment to remember what Independence Day is all about . . . .

Consumers saying NO!: The Boston Tea Party

Scholars have recently begun to stress that the real revolutionary power of the American Revolution lay in the organized action of consumers in North America who hit their imperial rulers where it hurt: in their trading businesses. (See, for instance, The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence, by H.T. Breen)

As someone who had a long career in international trade, I look at the map of all the #nuclearban-supporting countries from the standpoint of a US-based global marketer, and I think, "Uh-oh ...."

Interactive #nuclearban map from @icanaustria.
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People ask, "Even if all the #nuclearban-supporting countries enter into a treaty, what difference does it make if countries like the US remain outside the treaty? Where is the leverage to make the US change?"

I suspect that we have an enormous amount of leverage . . . !

Top 100 Global Brands ... including Coca-Cola, IBM, Microsoft, Google,
GE, McDonald's, Intel, Apple, Disney, HP, and more ...

Everything that is happening in the US right now -- really, a state of political chaos -- is a function of how rapidly our economy is changing, and our inability to understand where we sit relative to the global economy. We are the beneficiaries of our integration with global markets . . . and we don't seem to realize how good we've got it, or how quickly we could lose the benefits of that integration.

One thing that I learned during my years traveling around the world as a US business person: people in other countries don't actually love us that much.  I'm not saying that people in other countries have anything against people in the US, but we often float through life in a kind of trance in which we imagine that everything about the US is great! and people everywhere are filled with warm feelings about the US. The truth is that there is a lot of ambivalence.

And that means the US -- the government, the people, the businesses -- don't get a free pass for bad behavior.

I was very intrigued by the actions of Apple CEO Tim Cook several weeks ago. When Donald Trump rejected US participation in the Paris climate accord, Cook hastened to reassure the community of Apple stakeholders:

I know many of you share my disappointment with the White House's decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement. I spoke with President Trump on Tuesday and tried to persuade him to keep the U.S. in the agreement. But it wasn't enough.

Climate change is real and we all share a responsibility to fight it. I want to reassure you that today's developments will have no impact on Apple's efforts to protect the environment. We power nearly all of our operations with renewable energy, which we believe is an example of something that's good for our planet and makes good business sense as well.

We will keep working toward the ambitious goals of a closed-loop supply chain, and to eventually stop mining new materials altogether. Of course, we're going to keep working with our suppliers to help them do more to power their businesses with clean energy. And we will keep challenging ourselves to do even more. Knowing the good work that we and countless others around the world are doing, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about our planet's future.

Our mission has always been to leave the world better than we found it. We will never waver, because we know that future generations depend on us.

(See "Tim Cook emails Apple employees after failing to change Donald Trump’s mind about the Paris climate deal")

I believe business leaders like Tim Cook are gravely concerned about the political risk to their brands. They understand that their wildly popular brands may be tarred by association with the US - the country where they just happen to be domiciled. In the case of climate, there is a world consensus on the problem, and a daily-growing awareness that those who stand to be hurt the most by the problem are in the Global South. The problem for Tim Cook and Apple (and many other global brands based in the US) is: how can we let our customers throughout the world know that we're good guys -- that we're the ones wearing white hats -- despite the fact that we live in painfully close proximity to a practically outlaw regime?

In the days and weeks ahead, we will likely have a global consensus on outlawing nuclear weapons. And in boardrooms across this country, heated discussion of a new kind of political risk will begin . . . .

RELATED POST: Is there a relationship between #nuclearban and #G20?

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