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What should companies do when the riots break out?

Date: 10 Aug 2011
Author: Mallen Baker

Anti-business demonstration 'profits not people'

What's different in 2011

Where are we now? Well, certainly the events of the last couple of weeks have been different. Race does not seem to be the issue - white and black youths mingle as they loot and destroy. I'm not sure that's quite the progress Lord Scarman had in mind, of course.

Equally, this is not about specific areas where everyone has been abandoned and forgotten by the system. The perpetrators have been using twitter via their Blackberries to arrange where they would focus their efforts next. It is hard to take too seriously the theory that a revolution is being fought by people in serious poverty when they use high-end smartphones to co-ordinate their actions.

So is the official line correct? This is just thuggery and lawlessness. A small minority of morons who, confronted by a sudden moment of opportunity, have run amok because they have been badly brought up. Can businesses just wait until it's all over, and then take the boards off the shopfront and get back to business as usual?

I think there are a couple of factors that come from the recent violence that companies should not dismiss at all.

First - even if it is not geographically or racially concentrated to the degree that it once was, there is a sizeable underclass in our society and there shouldn't be. They are the ones whose parents probably themselves were part of that group that believed society had nothing for them, who rebelled against education, and who ended up living the self-fulfilling prophecy.

When politicians and commentators hold their hands up at the sight of young rioters and ask 'don't their parents care where they are?' the answer is - no, not much. Their parents are simply following the parenting role model they themselves grew up with. This has become embedded.

We think this is a problem, right? Some companies have done good work finding community programmes to help homeless people regain the skills and pride that they need to hold down a job. And others have done programmes to provide jobs for former offenders knowing that the absence of such work makes it far more likely they will reoffend. I can't help feeling that we're missing a significant slice of people with such efforts.

Second factor - companies should pay attention because this may well be a foreshadow of things to come.

In the 1980s, people rioted because they didn't have jobs. Human dignity came with the right to work.

But then we had twenty years where we became the spoiled, selfish generation. We had every gadget you can get, and the expectation is that everything we wanted could be gotten at a very low cost. We saw people become famous and rich by striking it lucky. Going on Big Brother. Winning the lottery. Suddenly, people aspired to be celebrities and to live the celebrity lifestyle. Having such luck, and such money, meant you didn't have to have a job.

Now the selfish generation is about to meet the age of consequences - and it doesn't much like what it sees.

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The selfish generation is about to meet the Age of Consequences

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