In 2006 I landed my dream job. After a year of studying an MA in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) at the University of Nottingham, I finally navigated my way into a company that believed doing good was good for business; global confectionery brand, Cadbury. Based on its Quaker foundations, Cadbury has a strong belief in being a force for good, socially and environmentally. This is a belief that resonates with my own. Once I completed roles in Sales and Marketing, I became the Global Sustainability Manager at Cadbury in 2008. Ethics and chocolate is a wonderful combination!
It was during this role that I was first introduced to the notion of dignity at work. I was fortunate to work as part of the team that took Cadbury’s flagship product – Cadbury Dairy Milk – into Fairtrade certification. It was a significant step for Cadbury. This was one of the first ethical certification schemes that the company had worked with. For Fairtrade, this was a big step in ‘mainstreaming’ ethical consumption. But, crucially, this was also a big step for cocoa producers. I was lucky to spend some time in Ghana and visit small-holding cocoa farms to see the difference Fairtrade made. It meant access to a fair and sustainable wage and thus standard of living. It meant dignity in the farmers’ dealings with large cocoa producers and manufacturers.
As I moved into my Ph.D. study (following the take-over of Cadbury by the then Kraft Foods), I gravitated away from physical supply chains to explore digital supply chains and a more ‘invisible’ environment for business responsibility. My initial interest was in how organisations use digital platforms to communicate with stakeholders about business responsibility. Yet, more recently, I have begun examining how the platforms create conditions for fair and sustainable employment.
Working with my colleague from Leuphana University in Germany, Dr. Hannah Trittin-Ulbrich, I have interviewed over 20 online influencers about how they derive meaning from their work in a context that deems their work meaningless. Aside from super-successful influencers, smaller-scale influencers are often in precarious positions, poorly and inconsistently remunerated, and operating at the whim of opaque algorithmic infrastructures. In focussing on access to fair employment standards, this work seemingly draws parallels with my work at Cadbury on Fairtrade. And, serendipitously, here I am, considering dignity at work once again, albeit in a different guise. Dignity at work, in this context, relates to fair remuneration from brands and visibility from platforms.
So, dignity at work has been a strand of my past, and it’s a strand of my present. But, moving forward, I wonder if and how dignity at work will continue to be equated with fairness in my mind. Fair means just, honourable, and equitable. These are all qualities that certainly chime with dignity. Yet as concerns regarding fair remuneration and working standards continue to permeate physical and virtual worlds, can we go beyond ‘fair’ in the context of dignity at work?
Sarah Glozer is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Management at the University of Bath. You can read more about her work here.