Heather Yaxley’s very sensible comment yesterday in response to my piece on France Telecom’s (FT) suicides, provides an opportunity to say why in my heart of hearts I long to criticise FT’s approach.
I do agree that “Apologise, Reform, Move on” works, case by case, and is often better than any alternative when the heat is on. But I think it is bad for society, so I think it is almost a selfish response.
I think Heather is wrong to imply or suggest that “Apologise, Reform, Move on” (ARM, henceforth) is socially valuable because it brings firms into a better relationship with society by inviting them to take responsibility (even though they may not be the villain in the story).
The main and over-arching reason is that ARM is dishonest. It is also patronizing and condescending. I think that its motives are difficult to disguise and that actually it generates mistrust and insecurity in personal and corporate relations. I don’t want the truth to die because PR finds it more convenient to fudge things, and hard to tell it as it is.
Here’s why I think as I do:
(1) ARM invites firms falsely to portray themselves as villains (think Shell and Brent Spar).
(2) ARM invites firms falsely to assert that they can manage their affairs in ways which don’t cause pain.
(3) ARM invites firms to dissemble (after all, it is untruthful to say you accept blame when actually you don’t).
(4) If France’s culture makes people suicide-prone, does it help society to head off blaming FT?
(5) ARM creates moral hazard: campaigners know they can make false accusations and make their targets pay.
(6) CSR and CR are empty shells, inviting contempt, unless they speak to business realities (think about the moral crusade against banks and what it will actually take – and what we shall have to accept – to get them working properly again; and think public sector cuts).
More generally, I agree with Frank Furedi and Anthony Daniels that there is a problem with modern individualism: it makes people nurture their vulnerability, and especially their being victims of capitalism, when in fact they are more likely victims of emotionalism, nonsense and downright deception (we say we care about your inner-self, when we don’t).
But yes, ARM works, and it corrodes. It buys firms breathing space in a crisis. It also breeds an underlying unease among the public(s) about motives and gnaws at the self-confidence of the very firms which practice it.
I also think that PR’s promotion of ARM explains why the trade has such a low standing among both the public and its clients.
It is time to break ARMs. It is time to put a more robust-style of communication at the heart of public life.
Though without wanting to appear soft, I’d back Heather’s call to involve the Samaritans in FT’s affairs. After all, they’re better qualified for the job of preventing suicides than FT, and they don’t do therapy, which is why they are trusted. And it’s all good telecoms-based stuff.