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

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    Of all the characters
    in all the Disney films
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    the one I love the most
    is Jiminy Cricket from "Pinocchio."
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    My favorite scene in the movie
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    is when the blue fairy
    is saying to Pinocchio,
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    "Always let your conscience
    be your guide."
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    Pinocchio asks, "What are conscience?"
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    and Jiminy Cricket
    is scandalized by the question.
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    "What are conscience!
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    What are conscience!
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    Conscience is that still, small voice
    that people won't listen to.
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    That's just the trouble
    with the world today."
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    I love the way Jiminy Cricket
    is always there
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    with a nerdy, ethical thing
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    just as Pinocchio's coming up
    with some kind of good plan.
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    I think of him as speaking
    truth to puppet.
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    I always wondered what it was
    about Jiminy Cricket
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    that made me love him so much
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    and one day it hit me.
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    It was because he sounds
    like my grandfather.
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    My grandfather was
    a very sweet and cuddly man,
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    and I loved him to the moon and back.
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    But I shared him with a big, wide world.
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    His name was Roy O. Disney,
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    and together with his younger
    brother Walt Disney,
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    he came from a very humble
    upbringing in Kansas
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    and started and ran one of the most
    iconic businesses in the world.
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    Two things I remember the best
    about going to Disneyland
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    with my grandfather.
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    The first thing was
    he always gave me a stern warning
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    that if I ever sassed
    anybody who worked there,
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    I was in deep doo-doo when we got home.
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    He said, "these people work really hard --
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    harder than you can imagine,
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    and they deserve your respect."
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    The other is that he never
    walked by a piece of garbage,
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    inside of Disneyland or anywhere else,
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    where he didn't bend over to pick it up.
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    He said, "no one's too good
    to pick up a piece of garbage."
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    In Grandpa's day,
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    a job at Disneyland was not a gig.
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    A person could expect to own a home,
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    raise a family,
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    access decent health care,
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    retire in some security without worrying
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    on just what he earned there at the park.
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    Mind you, Grandpa fought the unions,
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    and he fought them hard.
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    He said he didn't like to be forced
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    to do something
    he wanted to do voluntarily.
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    That was rank paternalism of course
    and maybe even a tiny bit of BS.
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    He wasn't an angel,
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    and everyone wasn't well
    and fairly treated across the company,
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    something that's well-known.
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    But I think in his core
    he had a very deep commitment
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    to the idea that he had a moral obligation
    to every human being that worked for him.
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    That actually wasn't such an uncommon
    attitude for CEOs of the day.
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    But when my grandfather died in 1971,
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    a new mindset was beginning to take hold
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    of the American and eventually
    the global imagination.
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    Jiminy Cricket got shown the door
    by economist Milton Friedman,
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    among others,
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    who popularized the idea
    of shareholder primacy.
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    Now, shareholder primacy is a pretty
    reasonable idea when you think about it.
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    Shareholders own the company,
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    shareholders want profits and growth,
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    so therefore you prioritize
    profits and growth.
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    Very sensible.
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    But unfortunately, shareholder primacy
    was an idea that became a mindset
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    and then that mindset jumped the rails,
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    and it came to fundamentally
    alter everything
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    about the way companies
    and even governments
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    were led and managed.
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    Milton Friedman's pivotal op-ed
    in the "New York Times"
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    was followed by decades
    of concerted organizing and lobbying
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    by business-focused activists
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    along with a sustained assault
    on every law and regulation
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    that had once held businesses'
    worst impulses in check.
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    And soon enough,
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    this new mindset had taken hold
    across every business school
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    and across every sector.
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    Profits were to be pursued
    by any means necessary,
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    unions were kneecapped,
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    taxes were slashed,
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    and with the same machete,
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    so was the safety net.
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    I don't need to tell you
    about the inequality
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    that's been the result of these shifts.
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    We all know the story well.
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    The bottom line is that everything
    that turns a gig into a livelihood
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    was stripped away from an American worker.
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    Job security,
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    paid sick days,
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    vacation time --
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    all of that went away
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    even as the wealthy saw their net worths
    bloat to unprecedented,
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    and yes, unusable levels.
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    Although if you're Scrooge McDuck
    you could change it all into gold coins
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    and backstroke through it.
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    So let me just address
    the Dumbo in the room.
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    Yes, I am criticizing the company
    that bears my family's name.
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    Yes, I think Disney can do better.
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    And I believe that many of the thousands
    of magnificent people
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    who work at the Walt Disney Company
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    wish that it would do better
    just as much as I do.
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    For almost a century,
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    Disney has turned a pretty profit
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    on the idea that families
    are a kind of magic,
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    that love is important,
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    that imaginations matter.
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    That's why it turns
    your stomach a little bit
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    when I tell you that Cinderella
    might be sleeping in her car.
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    But let's be very clear:
    this is not just about Disney.
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    This is structural and this is systemic.
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    No single CEO on his own is culpable
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    and no single company
    has the wherewithal to buck this.
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    The analysts, the pundits,
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    the politicians,
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    the business school curricula
    and the social norms
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    drive the shape
    of the contemporary economy.
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    Disney is just doing
    what everybody else does,
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    and they're not even the worst offender.
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    If I told you how bad it was for workers
    at Amazon or McDonald's or Walmart,
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    or any one of a thousand other places
    you've never heard of,
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    it's not going to hit you as viscerally
    as if I tell you that 73 percent,
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    or three out of four of the people
    who smile when you walk in,
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    who help you comfort that crying baby,
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    who maybe help you have the best
    vacation you ever have,
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    can't consistently put food on the table.
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    It's supposed to be
    the happiest place on earth.
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    And the people who work there
    take incredible pride
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    that they pursue a higher purpose.
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    It's a higher purpose
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    that both my grandfather
    and great-uncle very intentionally built
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    when they made it a place that honors
    an interaction over a transaction.
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    Now, I know that a word like magic
    makes you wonder
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    if I've taken leave of my senses.
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    I know it's hard to imagine
    that something as ephemeral as love
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    can support a brand as big as Disney,
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    and I know that it's hard to imagine
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    that things as unquantifiable
    as moral obligations
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    should have any call on us
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    when we seek to deliver
    value to our investors.
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    But accounting and finance
    don't run the world.
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    Beliefs,
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    mindsets --
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    those are what drive business ethics.
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    And if we're going to change
    those mindsets and belief systems,
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    we're going to have to use the most
    Disney superpower out there.
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    We're going to have to use
    our imaginations.
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    You're going to have to invite
    Jiminy Cricket back to the party.
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    Now, Jiminy Cricket might start
    with some low-hanging fruit,
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    like, greed is not good,
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    like the world is not divided
    into makers and takers,
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    and that nobody ever,
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    without any help,
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    pulled themselves up
    by their own bootstraps --
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    if you know anything about physics
    you'll understand why that is.
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    Jiminy might remind us that every
    single person who works for us,
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    without exception,
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    whether they fill out the spreadsheets
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    or change the bedsheets,
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    deserves the respect
    and dignity of living wage.
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    It's as simple as that.
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    And Jiminy might wonder
    how managers and employees
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    could possibly have any kind
    of empathy for each other
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    when their workplaces
    have become so segregated
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    that it seems normal and natural
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    that an executive needs
    an especially swanky place to park
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    or eat or go to the bathroom
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    or that an executive is too good
    to pick up a piece of garbage.
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    We are, after all, just the one species
    living together on just the one planet.
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    Jiminy might ask us
    to question some of our dogma.
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    Does a CEO really need to be paid
    as much or more than every other CEO
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    or is that just creating
    a competitive dynamic
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    that's driving numbers
    into the stratosphere?
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    He might wonder if boards really do know
    all that they really need to know
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    when they don't have frontline workers
    ever at their meetings.
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    He might ask if there's such a thing
    as too much money.
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    Or he might wonder
    if maybe we can make common cause
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    with consumers, with workers,
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    with companies, with communities,
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    for all of us to come together
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    to redefine this incredibly narrow idea
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    of what the purpose
    of a company really is.
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    Jiminy would want us to remember
    that nobody works in a vacuum,
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    that the men and women who run companies
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    actively cocreate the reality
    we all have to share.
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    And just like with global warming,
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    we are, each of us, responsible
    for the collective consequences
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    of our individual decisions and actions.
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    I believe that the most profitable
    business ecosystem
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    in the history of the world
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    can do better.
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    I believe we can take
    just a little bit off of the upside,
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    take a tiny bit of pressure off
    the speed at which things are happening.
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    I believe that everything
    we lose in the short-term
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    will more than make up for itself
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    in an expanded landscape of moral,
    spiritual and financial prosperity.
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    I know what the cynics say, and it's true:
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    you can't eat your principles.
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    But you can't breathe
    a basis point either,
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    and neither can your children.
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    I know I idolized my grandfather
    probably too much.
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    He worked in very different times
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    and those are times
    none of us want to go back to
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    for all kinds of good reasons.
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    I know there are a lot of CEOs today
    who are just as well-meaning
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    and just as decent as my grandfather was,
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    but they're working at a time
    with very different expectations
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    and much more cutthroat context.
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    But here's the good news.
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    Expectations and contexts are made
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    and they can be unmade, too.
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    There is so much to learn
    from the simple integrity
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    of how my grandfather
    understood his job as CEO.
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    Behind every theme park
    and every stuffed animal,
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    a handful of principles
    governed everything.
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    Every single person
    deserves respect and dignity.
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    No one is too good
    to pick up a piece of garbage,
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    and always let conscience be your guide.
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    We could all do worse
    than listen to Jiminy Cricket.
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    Thank you.
Title:
Dignity isn't a privilege. It's a worker's right
Speaker:
Abigail Disney
Description:

What's the purpose of a company? In this bold talk, activist and filmmaker Abigail Disney imagines a world where companies have a moral obligation to place their workers above shareholders, calling on Disney (and all corporations) to offer respect, dignity and a living wage to everyone who works for them.

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Video Language:
English
Team:
TED
Project:
TEDTalks
Duration:
11:40

English subtitles

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