A colleague, attending her first political party conference, remarked at Labour’s bash last week: “It’s like a parallel universe in the middle of Manchester.” I suspect this is the view of most retailers, who see these events as far removed from their day-to-day business.
We attend them because we want to bring a little bit of your world – the real world – into the debate. At each of the conferences we took part in two fringe meetings. One was run by the Co-operative Group and tackled Responsible Retailing; the other was a CitizenCard event covering ID cards. Each generated an interesting exchange of views.
At the first, the issue of ethics and what constitutes sustainable retailing was brought to the fore. It was noted by Gareth Thomas, the Minister who spoke at the Labour event, that the environmental costs of, for example, producing fruit out of season, may well be far higher than the environmental costs associated with air-freighting in from warmer climes. Retailers have to try to balance supporting their own communities through local sourcing with supporting other communities through Fairtrade sourcing.
On the issue of ID cards, it was clear from listening to Minister Meg Hillier, with whom I shared a platform at the CitizenCard event in Manchester, that the government is pressing ahead with the ID card. This is good news for retailers, who of course want confidence to ask for proof of age knowing that customers will be carrying it.
But the point I made was that the card is voluntary, and the timetable for rollout means that young people will not be routinely carrying the cards for some time. So we cannot view ID cards as the solution to the problems we face around proof of age.
Whatever Gordon, David and Nick may do in their parallel universe, there is no more pressing daily issue in our world than being
a responsible retailer.