Retail Week Columns

Retailers aren’t to blame for all the public’s woes

An endemic lack of personal responsibility has led to a blame culture in Britain. It’s time to recognise who is really responsible for littering the streets and causing rising levels of obesity – and it isn’t retailers.

The General Election campaign highlights once again the importance of blame culture in the UK. Never mind solutions, let’s argue endlessly about who got us into this mess – and it’s always someone else, never us.

In the case of Brexit, the fault clearly lies mainly with thick, old, gullible, racist, Northern losers. Though maybe those smooth, over-confident Remain campaigners might also have played some part.

Until recently the selfish owners of petrol cars were to blame for destroying the planet with CO2 emissions, now diesel drivers are the bad guys for killing people with air pollution.

Though when it comes to the environment it is usually retailers and manufacturers that are found guilty, without the benefit of a trial.

The revelations about tons of plastic waste ending up on the remotest island in the Pacific rekindled my memory of a horrifying documentary on the ecological damage caused by plastic bottles being dumped into the oceans. Coca Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé and other big drinks makers got most of the blame, but they weren’t the ones actually doing the dumping.

Closer to home, Britain’s streets are paved with chewing gum. I’ve often thought about stopping selling it and I can’t understand why Wrigley and Cadbury don’t make it biodegradable. But again, they aren’t the ones who spit it out.

Shopping trolleys litter our streets and local councils react furiously to retailers like Iceland, as is if we are the ones dumping a £70 trolley in the local canal.

Supermarkets are also blamed for causing obesity and Type 2 diabetes by selling multi-buys, BOGOFs, sweets at the checkout, and sugary drinks and snacks. But we only offer what the consumer wants to buy.

It’s genuinely not our fault if the public would rather not buy knobbly carrots or imperfect fruit.

Every March when the grass is low I write to my local council about the tons of rubbish lining the grass verges on every roadside. McDonald’s trays, beer cans and plastic bottles can only get there by being thrown out of car windows.

I’ve recently been to Switzerland and was amazed at the cleanliness. In a two-hour drive I didn’t see a single piece of rubbish on the roadside. I asked the driver if there were big fines to prevent it. He looked at me as if I were mad. “We just don’t do it,” he said.

We need a wholesale change in our attitudes and the starting point must be to put the blame for litter and bad eating habits back where they belong, or we will never stop them happening.

Obesity won’t be prevented by taxing sugar or banning junk food. But I firmly believe that it could be cured in a generation by putting domestic science back on the school curriculum.

Teach children about the importance of good food, how to cook it, how much it is healthy to eat – and how to dispose of litter. Plus the importance of exercise over and above that provided by their thumbs on smartphones.

Stop blaming others, take a long hard look in the mirror and remember that slogan of Harry S. Truman: “the buck stops here”.

Leave a Comment

You may also like