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Fairness, Revisited

Last January, we released our Bold Thinking Report that synthesized tens of thousands of conversations on Reddit into one very simple theme: We Canadians want, feel entitled to and expect from all we encounter a sense of fairness and fair play. Common decency, or doing what’s right. Living the golden rule. 

Aside from the rhetoric, accusations and promises we’re being pummeled with from all sides on our prolonged election campaign, I’ve read several stories in the past few days that suggest that leaders in both the public and private sectors aren’t yet on board. For starters, we’ve managed to turn the fate of tens of thousands of Syrian refugees from a humanitarian crisis into a political issue. South of the border, Agri-business in the US is being accused of playing in the gray zone by engaging independent third parties to advocate on their behalf. And the American Egg Industry is under attack for the approaches it employed in its attempts to keep egg-free mayonnaise off the market. 

Truth be told, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to defend your turf. There’s also nothing wrong with engaging third parties as company, brand and/or issue advocates. What’s wrong in both cases cited here is a lack of transparency on the part of the businesses involved, and a lack of disclosure on the part of the third parties they’ve engaged – regardless of whether or not they were paid to provide “their” point of view. In social media, this is known as astroturfing or sockpuppeting. Brands (and people) get flamed for it on a regular basis. It’s the practice of using others to covertly promote your agenda. These others can be employees, business partners, self-proclaimed experts, bloggers, academics or NGOs. 

Here’s the deal. In the court of public opinion, lack of disclosure is synonymous with deception. You are guilty by association. Similarly, lack of engagement on contentious issues is perceived as another sure sign of guilt. Your Chief Counsel may not agree, but the only way forward in a world where the perceived fairness of your organization is directly related to the trust you earn with the stakeholders you care most about, is transparency. We may live in a colorful world, but we’re judged in black and white. 

Is that fair? It is to the people who matter. What do you think?

Drop me a line at rmurray@national.ca to keep the conversation going.