A new social contract between brands and consumers

March 6, 2011 25 Comments

Image: Craig Damrauer at

Many academics, authors and bloggers are taking a hard look at the practice of capitalism with a view to a more sustainable future that ensures prosperity for more people both here in the United States and around the developing world. This necessarily involves an examination of the private sector and the relationship between brands and consumers in terms of whose best interests are being served.

Yet anyone who criticizes present practices should also assume the responsibility for providing a viable alternative so the discussion moves the conversation forward. That is the purpose of this post, to provide an outline of a new social contract between brands and consumers that enables both parties (and the world at large) to benefit from the social technology that now connects them.

The following ten points serves as a foundation for the We First concept but it is not meant to be definitive but rather a starting point for a conversation about the respective roles that brand and consumers play in a more sustainable practice of capitalism. As such I invite you to interrogate, shape and finesse the points below with a view to the social licence under which brands now operate and the increased responsibility that consumers must now assume if they truly want a better future.

The following We First social contract is based on the belief that selfish Me First thinking hurts business and the lives of millions of people around the world. It asserts that a brighter future depends on an integration of profit and purpose within the private sector. To achieve this, companies and customers must become partners in social change to build a better world. It believes the following principles should guide our business practices:

1. We believe companies have a right to innovation, entrepreneurship and profit making while consumers have a right to a healthy society and planet to live on.

2. We recognize an interdependent, global community requires an expanded definition of self-interest that acknowledges the needs of all inhabitants of the planet.

3. We define success through prosperity that means the well being of many, not the wealth of a few.

4. We believe that future of profit is purpose.

5. We believe that the interests of companies and consumers are best served through a sustainable practice of capitalism — economically, morally, ethically, environmentally, and socially.

6. We believe that corporations and consumers owe each other an equal duty to operate with transparency, authenticity and accountability.

7. We believe that social technology, business, and shopping have the potential to change our world through new modes of engagement, collaboration, and contribution.

8. We believe the values that inform our daily practice of capitalism include: sustainability, fairness of rewards, fiscal responsibility, accountability, purposefulness, engagement, and global citizenship.

9. We believe that corporations and consumers are duty-bound to serve as custodians of global well being for this and future generations.

10. We believe that the private sector must cooperate, collaborate and coordinate with governments and NGOs to create a unified force for social good.

Please share any thoughts, objections or additions to this list in the spirit of framing a working document that is substantive and actionable. If the spirit of a We First community I also draw your attention to the leadership thinking in this area including B Corporation’s Declaration of Interdependence, the Capitalist Manifesto by Umair Haque, and Harvard Business Review articles by Dominic BartonMichael Porter & Mark Kramer.

By working together to re-frame our thinking we can start to shift our behavior which is the first steps to a practice of capitalism that is both sustainable and fairer for all. Fire away with any thoughts.

  • Anonymous

    I too agree that companies need to be transparent. Think of all the “secrets” we manage, the energy expended, only to lose on the value provided of information shared.

  • Simon Mainwaring

    Thanks and totally agree. The hidden motives waste energy and times and
    interfere with connecting with the social marketplace. I’m sure we see
    things change if only a little. Thx, simon

  • Justice Marshall

    I’ve enjoyed your blog on a few occasions now.
    A couple thoughts on this post –
    First, there’s a lot to like here. And I wonder… is consumerism (as the prominent world paradigm) sustainable and desirable? What are the alternatives? Also – what about including democracy? Real, participatory democracy.

  • Simon Mainwaring

    Thanks, Justice Marshall. A pleasure to meet you. Consumerism itself is at
    issue, I agree. Without going into a lengthy definition, our preoccupation
    with consumption is at odds with a more blanced view in which the
    environment and its inhabitants owe each other an equal duty of care. I’ll
    certainly put more thought into this. And I do think the line between social
    and democratic values that inform a new social contract such as this is very
    fine. As we have seen recently throughout the Arab world, social technology
    is powerful in both the commercial and political domains due to its ability
    to align people around shared values. Participatory consumption and
    democracy are equally complementary. Let’s hope a shift in the direction of
    either also benefits the other. Thanks so much, Simon

  • Simon Mainwaring

    Thanks, Mr Social, appreciate the support. Those two statements you pulled
    out are important for sure. The ignorance of bliss has been replaced by the
    burden of awareness. Brands and consumers need each other to succeed. Thanks
    so much for the feedback. Simon

  • HyperActiveX

    “The future of profit is purpose” – well said!

    Great post, and thank you for sharing your ideas. Since our perspective resonates well with yours, I thought I’d share some thinking on values and principles:

    We envisage a convergence of purpose-driven organizations and profit-oriented enterprise as explained in this blog post:

  • Simon Mainwaring

    Thanks and will take a look at the posts. Best, Simon

  • Hilary White

    I think if consumers and corporations have similar standards for transparency, authenticity and accountability it will be a huge step towards leveling the playing fields.

  • Simon Mainwaring

    Agreed, thanks Hilary. I think we can all help them get there too. Best,

  • Simon Mainwaring

    Thanks, Kevin. You can also visit this address now, pre-order it and get
    free white papers and downloads. Thanks for the support. Simon

  • Simon Mainwaring

    Totally agree, Kevin. It will efforts on all our parts but I believe we can
    make the necessary shifts. Great to be in touch, Simon

  • Kevin Yoon Lee

    Thanks for the kind information. However, I’m waiting the Kindle edition cause I’m in Korea meaning that I have to pay international shipping cost if I order a hardcover. Please let me see the Kindle edition ASAP. :-D

  • Simon Mainwaring

    Will do. Thanks Kevin.

  • Bill Cameron

    These issues absolutely needed to be underlined, and am pleased you were the one to do it….the me first, ” greed is good” corporate creed has ruled for the past 20 years, and you give hope to change the corporate thinking. Well done.

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  • Simon Mainwaring

    Thanks, Bill. A shift has started but we need to keep pushing. It’s too
    important for everyone’s well-being and the bottom line. Thx

  • Simon Mainwaring

    Thanks. I will do some research. Best, simon

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About Simon Mainwaring

We First training and consulting helps the world’s most innovative brands tell the story of the good work they do in ways that build their reputation, employee productivity, sales and social impact.

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