Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Tipping the scales of injustice?

The news today is awash with talk of an independent ombudsman that has been appointed to resolve disputes between the big supermarkets and their suppliers.

My personal opinion is that their approach to planning permission and the 'competition test' leaves a lot to be desired. Many parties (including Friends of the Earth) felt this was a missed opportunity to do someting for local shops.

I think it's a missed opportunity to use the planning system to achieve greater diversity and vibrancy on our High Streets.

But when it comes to protecting suppliers, this appointment seems to have already taken great strides in the right direction:

  • The ombudsman will investigate any complaints made by suppliers
  • It will levy financial penalties on those who don't comply
  • And most importantly, it will receive information confidentially from suppliers, so there's no concern about ruining business relations by speaking up.

Of course, ASDA's not pleased. Andy Bond, their CEO said, "The commission's proposals on the new code and an ombudsman could cost the industry hundreds of millions, leading to higher prices for customers which will hit families hard at a time when they are already feeling the pinch."

Yes, Andy, instead we should definitely keep prices down at the expense of the planet and the nation's producers. Man, doing the right thing really sucks. Read more on the BBC website.

Friday, 25 April 2008

This week saw this adition of our lovely little delicious and Facebook buttons on the site. You can find it on the bottom of every shop page as shown in the picture below.

Now when you see something you like you can immediately bookmark it or add it to your Facebook news stream.

While we're on the subject of Facebook, if you haven't joined our group yet you're missing out on competitions, news and other delightful things. Take yourself to Unchained - for the love of great independent shops and become a member.

Let us know what you think of the feature and if there's anything else you'd like to see us include on the site.

Friday, 18 April 2008

The trouble with man-flu

There's a lot of trouble with the man-flu, especially if you're me.

Not only does it put you out-of-action for a week, but that means that a lot of emails, blogs and things just never get written. Not good.

It also means that when one attends meetings that absolutely cannot, under any circumstances (sans death) be missed, one may take too many Sudafeds thereby making it impossible to swallow anything dry for days.

Yes, dear reader, it has been a tough week for my head, nose, throat and I.

And in case you were wondering, the man-flu is the very reason why the blogging has been rather thin.

I thought the least I could do was drag my germs to the laptop to share a great piece of coverage we enjoyed in London Lite this week - thank you chaps. Click on the image to read what they had to say.

Stay tuned for lots of exciting gossip next week - there is much to make up for.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Ethical Entrepreneur. An oxymoron?

My first business (apart from freelancing which doesn't really count) was with my best friend Lora years ago. I remember a frosty Scottish morning so early, that for most people our age it was still the night before. We were on a ferry, traveling to Ireland. We were dirty, grouchy and laughing at things in that hysterical way you do when you're well and truly shattered. Lora looked at me and said: "You know when people say if it's so easy why isn't everyone doing it?"

"Yes," I said, laughing for no reason.

"This is why."

She was right.

Anyone who's ever started their own business knows that one day (probably early on) they'll be asked the same question.

If something hasn't been done before there's a skepticism about whether it will work because, well, it's never been done before.

If something has been done before, there's skepticism because, well, it's already been done.

As a social entrepreneur the questioning quadruples - easily.

Traditional business people just don't seem to get it. They keep looking at the numbers and asking why we don't want to do things like list a gazillion shops, send troops of people out into the streets to sell things for us, sell loads and loads of advertising space on our site and so the list goes on.

They look at Unchained and break it down into a series of revenue streams that we're choosing not to tap into. And, quite frankly, they think we're f*&cking insane. If this was a real business, you'd be doing what it takes to make as much money as possible, surely.

I'm sure this is an issue that most social entrepreneurs face. With a foot in both camps, I walk away form conversations like these with traditional businesspeople and question myself: Is is possible to be ethical and entrepreneurial?

After one such conversation quite recently I went in search of wisdom to the virtual land of brillaince that is TED. I wanted to hear from social entrepreneurs who'd been laughed at and gone on to enjoy success in social and traditional terms. And boy did I find one.

When Jeff Skoll arrived in Hollywood to set up a social film production company he was the source of much amusement. My favourite line of his amazing talk was advice he was given from a film exec: "The fastest way to become a millionaire in Hollywood is to arrive as a billionaire and go into the movie business".

Of course, Jeff was a billionaire thanks to the business he'd co-founded. It's called ebay, you may have heard of it.

Enjoy the talk and let me know your thoughts on ethics in businesses and if the two are oil and water or cheese and wine.

Aren't daisies delicious?

I'm a wise woman of this fabulous world, but until yesterday I'd never really met a Daisy.

Of course when I say daisy I'm not speaking of the lovely, happy looking floral things. No. I mean actual females called Daisy. Never met one.

But for two days in a row, we've had shop nominations come in from people called Daisy.

And we like them. We like them, the shops they nominate and their lovely, perfect-for-springtime names.

Now, calling all Roses.
Rose? Anyone? Anyone?

Sunday, 6 April 2008

A plug for another Unchained

A few months ago, when Unchained was pretty young and we hadn’t started to get our names into the newspapers, I was telling one of my colleagues about it. And when I mentioned the name ‘Unchained’ they said “Oh. Do you mean that Dave Gorman thing?”

“What Dave Gorman thing?”, I asked, slightly baffled.

“The thing where he travelled across the States trying not to spend any money in chainstores”, they replied. “It was on Channel 4 last night.”

“Ehm. No. Dave Gorman has nothing to do with it. But that sounds interesting. Please tell me more.”

So that was when I found out all about his fantastic ‘America Unchained’ film/book/pyjamas/lunchbox project. If you don’t know anything about it, you can find out more here, here, here and here.

Obviously we at Unchained think he’s come up with a wonderful name for his project. We loved the film and I’m currently enjoying the book. So Lea and I went along to a reading he was doing at Borders on Oxford Street yesterday (yes, even Dave Gorman commented on the irony of that one). I must admit that I’m not a great fan of readings. I’ve been to a couple in the past where I’ve just sat in the audience thinking how much I’d rather be reading it in the corner of a quiet pub with a pint of nice ale beside me. Thankfully, this wasn’t one of those. It was more of a question and answer session where he shared more funny anecdotes as well as a lot of the personal pain he went through on his cross-continent adventure. And – best of all – it wasn’t remotely preachy, flagwaving or militant.

He’s doing some more talks around the country this week – so if you get the chance to go and see him, I’d highly recommend it.

And, if you don’t, go out and buy the book anyway, From an independent bookshop, if you can.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Today is a good day

Oh joy.

Today is such a wonderful day that I almost feel slightly ill with guilt from it all.

Not only does it look like spring might have finally sprung (touch wood) but a whole host of lovely press-related stuff has happened to Unchained - leaving me wandering the sunny streets with a delirious grin on my face.

I walked to the shop in the lovely sunshine to buy The Evening Standard today because we are in it. The newspaper had contacted us last week to get a shortlist of shops to feature in their article about independent shops. We provided them with the list and today they made an appearance on page 25. You can also read what they said online but unfortunately they just have information about us online and not the list of shops.

Then Andrea at The London Traveler said lovely things about us on the blog. Thank you Andrea, we love you right back.

And finally (as if all those very delicious things aren't good enough) I finally found an article the Scotsman wrote about us a month or so ago. My parents live in Scotland and bought a copy of the newspaper after Alastair Jamieson interviewed me. But then my father went and chucked it - oops. Don't worry Dad, it's all sorted thanks to the marvels of the interweb.

I was really keen to see this article because it's about something we feel quite strongly about - reviews on websites. We thought long and hard about whether we wanted to include reader reviews on the site and I'm very pleased we decided not to. First of all, there are thousands of sites out there full of opinions. We think our professional endorsement of the shops on our site is enough. Also, and please tell me if you think the same thing, I often read reviews and just don't believe them. These often gleaming reviews of people's food and drink sound like their mothers have all logged on and praised their offspring. Similarly, sometimes the bad reviews just sound too bad. I can't help but wonder if it's a competitor, or even worse, a disgruntled ex-member of staff.

What do you think? Is there a site that you trust and always check with before venturing out? Do you have a doo-d00-filter for the reviews you read? I'd love to know what you reckon.

As for me, I'm off to be unreasonably delighted with life. Stay tuned for more tomorrow.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Loving the attention

And then, as if Planet Green wasn't enough, The Foodie List also gave us a special mention.

I'm seriously feeling the love.

Schucks, thanks y'all.

Planet Green

Big thanks to Leonora Oppenheim for interviewing me for her weekly 'Change Maker' column on Planet Green. You can read the article here.

Planet Green is run by the same talented lovelies who created TreeHugger. They talk green sense, without being preachy. With a lot of big companies jumping on the green and ethical bandwagon, Planet Green sifts through the marketing chat to find out what's really kicking. The site is full of great, green stuff like recipes, news, travel and of course interviews with dashing individuals like yours truly (ahem). Be sure to give them a click.

Have a look at the other businesses she's featured - I'm in good company.

Thanks Leonora.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Bank you very much

I hate banks. And not just for soft, philosophical reason. I hate their queues, their forms, their protocol, their stinking call centres. I hate scrambling for my own money, the pass-the-buck way of handing problems - and did I mention how I felt about queues?

And though I thought my passionate distaste for banks could be no more bitter, but then I consulted The Good Shopping Guide and alas, I dislike my own bank even more. You see, my bank, which shall remain nameless (apart from this hyperlink to their homepage), got terrible scores for 'Oppressive Regimes' - which I'm no fan of. Related companies also have bottom ratings on things like 'Nuclear Power', 'Pollution', 'Animal Rights', 'Workers' Rights', 'Irresponsible Marketing' and (wait for it) 'Armaments'. Talk about a vile skank-pit!

Anyway, as far as I was concerned, Unchained was taking its business elsewhere. And after reading encouragement on the Anti-Apathy website, there was no question, I was off to Triodos.

For those of you who don't know Triodos, they're an ethical bank. Think that sounds like an oxymoron? It isn't, this is a beautifully copied and pasted piece of copy from the Triodos website:
Triodos Bank finances companies, institutions and projects that add cultural value and benefit people and the environment, with the support of depositors and investors who want to encourage corporate social responsibility and a sustainable society.

Our mission is

  • To help create a society that promotes people’s quality of life and that has human dignity at its core.
  • To enable individuals, institutions and businesses to use money more consciously in ways that benefit people and the environment, and promote sustainable development.
  • To offer our customers sustainable financial products and high quality service.
Lovely, isn't it?

Yes, lovely for some.

You see, Triodos have decided not to give Unchained an account.

Why? Well, while Triodos fully supports the Unchained concept and think our work promotes a sustainable future (hallelujah), they don't think there is a good fit between our two companies because I cannot vouch for the Fairtrade and Organic status of every single one of our shop members.

And now? Well now I find myself torn. Part of me respects Triodos for having such strict criteria for banking. But the other, bigger part is really frustrated. I desperately want to bank responsibly, but it doesn't look like I can. Even the other bank that has a good community focus and reputation also has that unfortunate colour ring denoting a related company's involved in 'armaments'. Boo.

I need your opinions and recommendations. Where should we take our ethical, socially conscious (but not organic) business? Do you think Triodos are right? What's a girl to do?