An Open Letter to the John Lewis Partners

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I am writing this letter as a concerned customer, citizen, and in my professional capacity as someone teaching in the field of Corporate Social Responsibility. The reason why I have chosen to do this is the response that the Partnership sent to a campaign requesting that John Lewis and Waitrose stop placing ads in British newspapers that promote hate speech in this country, especially in an environment of increasing violence against many in our society. They have responded on Twitter to communications by @StopFundingHate by arguing that the Partnership does not make editorial judgments on any particular newspaper.

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I wish to demonstrate with the following that this stance violates the Partnership’s CSR commitments and to ask YOU, individual partners, to act in order to guide the Partnership to honour its commitments.

The John Lewis Partnership is guided by a series of principles and rules. Principle 7 states the followingThe Partnership aims to obey the spirit as well as the letter of the law and to contribute to the wellbeing of the communities where it operates.

My contention is that placing ads in newspapers promoting hate, undermining the peaceful co-existence of the inhabitants of this island is detrimental to the wellbeing of the communities in which the Partnership operates.

The Partnership proudly declares in its CSR documentation that In 2015 it carried out a detailed review of their approach to respecting human rights, drawing on the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). Indeed the Partnership has a long history of positive involvement in human rights issues and in responsible business. This was the result of John Spedan Lewis’s visionary ideas, behaviours and beliefs as your CSR statements correctly highlight.

Placing advertising in newspapers spouting lies, spreading hate and disseminating misinformation that aims to divide the nation and turn sections of the population against each other, betrays the values of the Partnership’s founder.

The Partnership proclaims to be engaged in responsible marketing. This means that its marketing is considerate of customer needs and wishes and protects vulnerable groups.

Do you not consider that the people who fled their countries to escape persecution are vulnerable groups? Don’t you consider that foreign workers, trying to make a life for their families in this country, under difficult conditions, are vulnerable groups? Do you not consider that ethnic and religious minorities persecuted by an abominable press and far-right fanatics are vulnerable groups?

Adhering to the Advertising Standards Authority Code of Practice and other relevant industry codes is not enough if it is done as a tick-box exercise. Do you not proclaim to obey the spirit as well as the letter of rules?

In my research in the field of CSR I argued that voluntarism can be something beyond pretty dressing for corporate branding exercises. I tell my students in Human Rights that CSR has substantive value and that the aim is for businesses to do the appropriate thing because they believe it, not because it scores some marketing points or makes for good tweets.

Other businesses are indeed doing the right thing.

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Have I been wrong about John Lewis?

Crucially, YOU as partners, have YOU being wrong? Do you not aspire for the Partnership to be better?

If you do, then I urge you to heed the calls of the Stop Funding Hate campaign and guide the Partnership to honouring its CSR commitments.

With Regards

Dr. Ioannis Glinavos

@iGlinavos

You may find this offensive 

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OK,  you are still here. Good stuff. This post is about religion and our attitudes to it and how you can dislike Islamic dress codes for women without being a fascist.

First let’s get some things straight. I am an atheist. I deeply believe that all religious belief is misguided and false. I understand the psychological reasons for such beliefs, their sociological, anthropological and political meaning. This does not make them true in my view. I also view most expressions of religious beliefs,  especially as regards dress and diet, as personal preferences, not otherwordly imperatives.

However, I am not Richard Dawkins and I will not try and convince you of the error of your ways (not in this post anyway). What I want to do here is to discuss the burkini ban.

I think French cities that banned the burkini have not expressed well their desire to protect the values of the Republic. A ban was not a very good idea, plus it was sloppily defended in court.

Yet I dislike the burkini and similar rules that affect women. Why do I dislike them?

I believe that things like dress codes and acceptance of religious based preferences are leaking out of the religious domain into general culture creating an environment of self censorship that threatens the secular basis of western society.

Let me try and explain this. In our effort not to offend and accommodate other’s preferences we refrain from doing certain things. This is only normal in polite society. When I have friends who do not eat pork, I will serve something else. When I am dining with vegans I will keep the chicken nuggets safe in the freezer.

Should I also advise my daughters to dress discreetly in the tube so as not to ‘offend’? Should I encourage my supermarket to stock only halal meat to ease complexity in supply chains? 

Of course not, you will say. This is silly scaremongering by the right wing tabloids. No one is going to force us to eat halal chickens or avoid miniskirts in the tube. Alright, I agree.

But the idea of the burkini still makes me uncomfortable. Why do women wear it? OK,  anyone can wear whatever they want on the beach.  Sure. But why this? Is it an expression of religious belief? An outward expression of religion is contrary to the constitution in France. As such the burkini is like the burka or massive crosses on the chest and would be banned in public places.

If it is not an expression of belief why do women chose to wear it? Is it to be modest? What does that mean? Does it mean not to excite the men? In that case it is a form of self censorship that is demeaning for women.

Should pretty girls dress modestly so that lonely young boys do not get impure thoughts and need a change of sheets in the morning?  We do not give a damn what the boys do or think, is the answer.

But giving a coating of religion to the self censorship makes such capitulation somehow defensible? I think not.

I think a healthy secular modern society needs to confront preferences even when they come dressed up as religion. The burkini ban may be a rough way to start a discussion, but it’s a start.

@iGlinavos

@iGlinavos makes #Brexit news

If there is one thing you can say about Brexit is that it has kept us busy.

Here is a summary of my “media engagement” as the University likes to call it, since Britain voted for “glorious independence”.

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I wrote a piece for The Conversation on the consequences of Brexit on the TTIP negotiations that you can access here.

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I appeared on ΣΚΑΙ radio, invited by Nikos Andritsos to speak about the consequences of the Brexit vote. You can listen to the audio (in Greek) here.

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An interview I gave on the future of EU trade negotiations appeared on German Focus magazine. Read here (in German).

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Finally, Raconteur magazine ran a piece on Brexit based in large part to an interview I had with them. See here for the full article.

@iGlinavos

 

Questionable burials and necrophilia

I reckon there is something seriously odd with traditional tales. Take Snow White for instance. I just read a non-disney version to my kids and wish I had stayed with the movie version.

There are a lot of odd things here if you think about it, but this one takes the biscuit.

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The dwarves return home to find Snow White dead. What do they do then?  They bury her you ask? No they don’t, they place her in a glass coffin (Lenin style) and leave her in the open on top of a hill. WTF?

Guess what happened next… you know what happened next. A necrophiliac prince comes by. Sees the decomposing  (?) corpse in a glass coffin on top of the hill and thinks “I am having some of that”. He proceeds to unpack Snow White and kisses her. At which point she comes back Lazarus style and falls instantly in love.

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They agree to marry as is the custom when fondling a corpse and everyone lives happily ever after.

We read this crap to our kids and then we wonder why they grow up to believe nonsense.

@iGlinavos

Belief, unbelief and the school gate

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I had the following discussion with my daughters:

8 year old: you know daddy, we are all related at school.

Me: eh, ok, how so?

8 year old: we all come from the same people.

Me: eh, what?

8 year old: there were first a couple, and all people are related to them.

Me: Oh, that! Eh, some people say that, but it’s not true

6 year old: it’s like a legend, some people think it’s true, some think it’s a story.

Me: Yes, right, only it isn’t true.

– cue screaming, some further debate and then this –

8 year old: you can’t tell me what to believe, I can believe whatever I want.

Now, I have to note that my kids are in a secular school. However some of their fellow pupils go to catechism, where some of the above seeps into general discussion.

What can an atheist do when confronted with these debates? It may be socially unwise to take Richard Dawkins view and get in people’s faces. It sounds appealing to point out that for me ‘standard’ religious doctrine sounds like any other fairytale, but it will most certainly offend, and why would I want to do that to people that are my friends?

On the other hand I need to protect my children from an onslaught of antediluvian mumbo jumbo. I compromise by avoiding to flaunt my atheism (I am writing this post though), so long as people do not force me to accept their theism as a serious topic of debate.

I am not going to compromise to the point that I accept that science and physics are a matter of choice and belief. This is a slippery slope leading to intelligent design style obscurantism and Trump.

My answer to my 8 year old was:

Me: what happens if you drop a stone off the balcony? It goes down doesn’t it? Does it ever go up? No it doesn’t. Some people may choose to believe it could go up, but it won’t. Some things may be ‘legent’ but there is one reality.

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@iGlinavos

Got a state job with a fake degree? No problem

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Imagine the following situation (any relation to real persons is entirely coincidental).

Yorgos was not great at school. He managed to scrape through and finished with a pass mark his secondary school (the obligatory part of education in Greece) in the provincial town in Arta in western Greece. Yorgos attended, but did not finish the optional, post-16 lycée with the local equivalent of a baccalaureate. His chances of getting a state job (the golden prize of the Greek job market) were quite slim, as ASEP (the national state recruitment management system) would credit him too low to enter into a position. Considering the vast majority of young Greeks crave the stability of a state job, ASEP scoring becomes all important, grading people on the basis of qualifications and personal factors (whether they are members of a protected class, children of large families etc).

What could Yorgos do? How to game the system and improve his chances? How about a fake qualification from a bogus private college (technical lycée, or TEE in Greek)? Why not? Indeed a reported 2000 Yorgoses had the same idea in this one town!

After Yorgos fixed his scores, with some help from an uncle who knew the right people within the party in power at the time, he obtained a job in the local tax office, where he spends his days drinking frappe behind a glass window in front of endless queues of citizens waiting to have a piece of paper stamped, before moving on to the next glass window where the same thing happens and so on and so forth.

Unfortunately, Yorgos’ quiet existence has been upset by the discovery of his fake qualification (and those of a few thousand of his colleagues). Such rotten luck. Yorgos is worried about consequences. If he were outside Greece things would go seriously south. Lying about your degree can have serious consequences in Europe. You could face up to 10 years imprisonment in the UK, as well as having your degree revoked. It will also severely damage your reputation.  Embellishing your qualifications, tampering with your degree certificate, or obtaining a fake degree certificate is a criminal offence under the Fraud Act 2006. You would, at minimum, lose your job. It is due to checks on qualifications that I have to take my degrees down from the wall, out of their frame (my mother had them framed, I know what you are thinking), and haul them to HR on my first day of every new job.

Alas, Yorgos is lucky, he lives in Greece. Greece is the place where sovietisation is continuing apace despite its demise pretty much everywhere else in the world. Mr I-will-never-wear-a-tie-Tsipras who represents state employees through his first-time-left-with-some-far-right-loones government would not let an estimated 2500 state employees lose their jobs over something minor, like bogus qualifications. The government newspaper (yes, there is a government newspaper, and Syriza journalists – Pravda was a good model it seems), announced a solution! The ministry of education (headed by someone without a degree, of course), will hold special exams pronto, for all those unsure about the veracity of their qualifications. This way they can prove their competence, without worrying about losing their jobs! What a great, transparent solution. Everyone wins.

Also, this can be used for an assault on private education providers in Greece, a historical enemy of the left, which came of age in the byzantine, inefficient, corrupt and filthy state Universities. These being the best in the world, I was told. While visiting on Erasmus, I had the privilege to attend classes while kids were selling tissues, stray dogs were sleeping under desks, and Communist Youths were plastering the blackboard with posters during the lectures at Athens Law School. Brilliant.

I scold you in advance if you entertain any thoughts of the Greeks as a band of tax-sucking, cheating, corrupt scumbags. Nothing could be further from the truth. We can provide our validated fake qualifications on request.

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@iGlinavos