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← Dignity isn't a privilege. It's a worker's right

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Showing Revision 9 created 09/02/2020 by Erin Gregory.

  1. Of all the characters
    in all the Disney films
  2. the one I love the most
    is Jiminy Cricket from "Pinocchio."
  3. My favorite scene in the movie
  4. is when the blue fairy
    is saying to Pinocchio,
  5. "Always let your conscience
    be your guide."
  6. Pinocchio asks, "What are conscience?"
  7. and Jiminy Cricket
    is scandalized by the question.
  8. "What are conscience!
  9. What are conscience!
  10. Conscience is that still, small voice
    that people won't listen to.
  11. That's just the trouble
    with the world today."
  12. I love the way Jiminy Cricket
    is always there
  13. with a nerdy, ethical thing
  14. just as Pinocchio's coming up
    with some kind of good plan.
  15. I think of him as speaking
    truth to puppet.
  16. I always wondered what it was
    about Jiminy Cricket

  17. that made me love him so much
  18. and one day it hit me.
  19. It was because he sounds
    like my grandfather.
  20. My grandfather was
    a very sweet and cuddly man,
  21. and I loved him to the moon and back.
  22. But I shared him with a big, wide world.
  23. His name was Roy O. Disney,
  24. and together with his younger
    brother Walt Disney,
  25. he came from a very humble
    upbringing in Kansas
  26. and started and ran one of the most
    iconic businesses in the world.
  27. Two things I remember the best
    about going to Disneyland

  28. with my grandfather.
  29. The first thing was
    he always gave me a stern warning
  30. that if I ever sassed
    anybody who worked there,
  31. I was in deep doo-doo when we got home.
  32. He said, "these people work really hard --
  33. harder than you can imagine,
  34. and they deserve your respect."
  35. The other is that he never
    walked by a piece of garbage,
  36. inside of Disneyland or anywhere else,
  37. where he didn't bend over to pick it up.
  38. He said, "no one's too good
    to pick up a piece of garbage."
  39. In Grandpa's day,

  40. a job at Disneyland was not a gig.
  41. A person could expect to own a home,
  42. raise a family,
  43. access decent health care,
  44. retire in some security without worrying
  45. on just what he earned there at the park.
  46. Mind you, Grandpa fought the unions,

  47. and he fought them hard.
  48. He said he didn't like to be forced
  49. to do something
    he wanted to do voluntarily.
  50. That was rank paternalism of course
    and maybe even a tiny bit of BS.
  51. He wasn't an angel,
  52. and everyone wasn't well
    and fairly treated across the company,
  53. something that's well-known.
  54. But I think in his core
    he had a very deep commitment
  55. to the idea that he had a moral obligation
    to every human being that worked for him.
  56. That actually wasn't such an uncommon
    attitude for CEOs of the day.
  57. But when my grandfather died in 1971,

  58. a new mindset was beginning to take hold
  59. of the American and eventually
    the global imagination.
  60. Jiminy Cricket got shown the door
    by economist Milton Friedman,
  61. among others,
  62. who popularized the idea
    of shareholder primacy.
  63. Now, shareholder primacy is a pretty
    reasonable idea when you think about it.

  64. Shareholders own the company,
  65. shareholders want profits and growth,
  66. so therefore you prioritize
    profits and growth.
  67. Very sensible.
  68. But unfortunately, shareholder primacy
    was an idea that became a mindset
  69. and then that mindset jumped the rails,
  70. and it came to fundamentally
    alter everything
  71. about the way companies
    and even governments
  72. were led and managed.
  73. Milton Friedman's pivotal op-ed
    in the "New York Times"

  74. was followed by decades
    of concerted organizing and lobbying
  75. by business-focused activists
  76. along with a sustained assault
    on every law and regulation
  77. that had once held businesses'
    worst impulses in check.
  78. And soon enough,
  79. this new mindset had taken hold
    across every business school
  80. and across every sector.
  81. Profits were to be pursued
    by any means necessary,
  82. unions were kneecapped,
  83. taxes were slashed,
  84. and with the same machete,
  85. so was the safety net.
  86. I don't need to tell you
    about the inequality

  87. that's been the result of these shifts.
  88. We all know the story well.
  89. The bottom line is that everything
    that turns a gig into a livelihood
  90. was stripped away from an American worker.
  91. Job security,
  92. paid sick days,
  93. vacation time --
  94. all of that went away
  95. even as the wealthy saw their net worths
    bloat to unprecedented,
  96. and yes, unusable levels.
  97. Although if you're Scrooge McDuck
    you could change it all into gold coins
  98. and backstroke through it.
  99. So let me just address
    the Dumbo in the room.

  100. Yes, I am criticizing the company
    that bears my family's name.
  101. Yes, I think Disney can do better.
  102. And I believe that many of the thousands
    of magnificent people
  103. who work at the Walt Disney Company
  104. wish that it would do better
    just as much as I do.
  105. For almost a century,
  106. Disney has turned a pretty profit
  107. on the idea that families
    are a kind of magic,
  108. that love is important,
  109. that imaginations matter.
  110. That's why it turns
    your stomach a little bit
  111. when I tell you that Cinderella
    might be sleeping in her car.
  112. But let's be very clear:
    this is not just about Disney.

  113. This is structural and this is systemic.
  114. No single CEO on his own is culpable
  115. and no single company
    has the wherewithal to buck this.
  116. The analysts, the pundits,
  117. the politicians,
  118. the business school curricula
    and the social norms
  119. drive the shape
    of the contemporary economy.
  120. Disney is just doing
    what everybody else does,
  121. and they're not even the worst offender.
  122. If I told you how bad it was for workers
    at Amazon or McDonald's or Walmart,
  123. or any one of a thousand other places
    you've never heard of,
  124. it's not going to hit you as viscerally
    as if I tell you that 73 percent,
  125. or three out of four of the people
    who smile when you walk in,
  126. who help you comfort that crying baby,
  127. who maybe help you have the best
    vacation you ever have,
  128. can't consistently put food on the table.
  129. It's supposed to be
    the happiest place on earth.
  130. And the people who work there
    take incredible pride
  131. that they pursue a higher purpose.
  132. It's a higher purpose
  133. that both my grandfather
    and great-uncle very intentionally built
  134. when they made it a place that honors
    an interaction over a transaction.
  135. Now, I know that a word like magic
    makes you wonder

  136. if I've taken leave of my senses.
  137. I know it's hard to imagine
    that something as ephemeral as love
  138. can support a brand as big as Disney,
  139. and I know that it's hard to imagine
  140. that things as unquantifiable
    as moral obligations
  141. should have any call on us
  142. when we seek to deliver
    value to our investors.
  143. But accounting and finance
    don't run the world.
  144. Beliefs,
  145. mindsets --
  146. those are what drive business ethics.
  147. And if we're going to change
    those mindsets and belief systems,
  148. we're going to have to use the most
    Disney superpower out there.
  149. We're going to have to use
    our imaginations.
  150. You're going to have to invite
    Jiminy Cricket back to the party.
  151. Now, Jiminy Cricket might start
    with some low-hanging fruit,

  152. like, greed is not good,
  153. like the world is not divided
    into makers and takers,
  154. and that nobody ever,
  155. without any help,
  156. pulled themselves up
    by their own bootstraps --
  157. if you know anything about physics
    you'll understand why that is.
  158. Jiminy might remind us that every
    single person who works for us,

  159. without exception,
  160. whether they fill out the spreadsheets
  161. or change the bedsheets,
  162. deserves the respect
    and dignity of living wage.
  163. It's as simple as that.
  164. And Jiminy might wonder
    how managers and employees
  165. could possibly have any kind
    of empathy for each other
  166. when their workplaces
    have become so segregated
  167. that it seems normal and natural
  168. that an executive needs
    an especially swanky place to park
  169. or eat or go to the bathroom
  170. or that an executive is too good
    to pick up a piece of garbage.
  171. We are, after all, just the one species
    living together on just the one planet.
  172. Jiminy might ask us
    to question some of our dogma.

  173. Does a CEO really need to be paid
    as much or more than every other CEO
  174. or is that just creating
    a competitive dynamic
  175. that's driving numbers
    into the stratosphere?
  176. He might wonder if boards really do know
    all that they really need to know
  177. when they don't have frontline workers
    ever at their meetings.
  178. He might ask if there's such a thing
    as too much money.
  179. Or he might wonder
    if maybe we can make common cause
  180. with consumers, with workers,
  181. with companies, with communities,
  182. for all of us to come together
  183. to redefine this incredibly narrow idea
  184. of what the purpose
    of a company really is.
  185. Jiminy would want us to remember
    that nobody works in a vacuum,

  186. that the men and women who run companies
  187. actively cocreate the reality
    we all have to share.
  188. And just like with global warming,
  189. we are, each of us, responsible
    for the collective consequences
  190. of our individual decisions and actions.
  191. I believe that the most profitable
    business ecosystem

  192. in the history of the world
  193. can do better.
  194. I believe we can take
    just a little bit off of the upside,
  195. take a tiny bit of pressure off
    the speed at which things are happening.
  196. I believe that everything
    we lose in the short-term
  197. will more than make up for itself
  198. in an expanded landscape of moral,
    spiritual and financial prosperity.
  199. I know what the cynics say, and it's true:
  200. you can't eat your principles.
  201. But you can't breathe
    a basis point either,
  202. and neither can your children.
  203. I know I idolized my grandfather
    probably too much.

  204. He worked in very different times
  205. and those are times
    none of us want to go back to
  206. for all kinds of good reasons.
  207. I know there are a lot of CEOs today
    who are just as well-meaning
  208. and just as decent as my grandfather was,
  209. but they're working at a time
    with very different expectations
  210. and much more cutthroat context.
  211. But here's the good news.

  212. Expectations and contexts are made
  213. and they can be unmade, too.
  214. There is so much to learn
    from the simple integrity
  215. of how my grandfather
    understood his job as CEO.
  216. Behind every theme park
    and every stuffed animal,
  217. a handful of principles
    governed everything.
  218. Every single person
    deserves respect and dignity.
  219. No one is too good
    to pick up a piece of garbage,
  220. and always let conscience be your guide.
  221. We could all do worse
    than listen to Jiminy Cricket.
  222. Thank you.