In 2014, Nobel Peace Prize winner & anti-apartheid hero Bishop Desmond Tutu said that "people of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change". This is exactly the kind of moral leadership that Scott Morrison has announced that he wants to ban.
Hundreds of thousands of Australians make this kind of moral choice every day when we decide to buy ethically sourced products of one kind or another.
Personally, I have never met anyone who wants to, for example, kill a koala, take an axe to the corals of the Great Barrier Reef or keep a human being in slavery. And that is why ethical products have a market.
But it is tough to find the time to check the ethics of every single product that we purchase. It is always preferable if whole industries are, for example, slavery-free or carbon-neutral or avoid deforestation in their supply chains. This is why it is so important that Australians are able to come together, to demand that entire sectors of the economy are reformed, to become better and more ethical.
And this is what has been happening successfully for years, as the hundreds of thousands of concerned Australians who belong to human rights and environmental groups in Australia and overseas have banded together to demand change in the way that products are produced.
There are dolphins that are still swimming, orangutans who are still swinging and people who have been liberated from oppression because of these campaigns. The world is a better place because of the efforts of everyone involved. And change across an entire sector is often good for business, too, because it makes doing the right thing competition-neutral.
But last week, Scott Morrison announced that he wants to change the law to deny certain consumer rights to demand ethical change in an industry. The Prime Minister is angry that some of "Australia's largest businesses are now refusing to provide banking, insurance and consulting services to ... the mining sector and the coal sector in particular".
At one level, Morrison is right. Refusal to invest in fossil fuels by some major superannuation funds, banks and other lending institutions, and refusal of insurance and other services by various businesses, is often a direct result of advocacy groups, shareholders and everyday people placing pressure on these industries to stop doing business with the coal, oil and gas industries that are destroying our precious planet. And in Desmond Tutu's moral universe, this would be something to celebrate. But in stark contrast, Morrison threatened to "outlaw" consumers getting together to put pressure on corporations to cut commercial ties with unethical businesses.
Coal is the number one driver of the climate emergency in our country. Businesses following the mantra of "don't buy, don't supply, say why" to stop doing trade with coal companies and other big polluters is a clear and direct contribution that every enterprise can make to the climate emergency. Such actions should be commended, not condemned.
Protests by groups like Greenpeace have helped draw the attention of consumers to actions taken by large corporations.
Morrison's threats are an attack on our culture and political life that menace consumer rights. In effect, he wants to stop consumers from using their shared power to demand change and to prevent charities and other advocacy groups from performing their proper democratic role.
Commercial corporations are legally obliged to act in the best interests of their shareholders. Time and time again we have seen corporations are prepared to change tack on their business strategy when new information comes into the public realm that will impact consumer perceptions.
Businesses themselves are often proud to promote the decisions they have made to cut ties with certain suppliers after organised consumer pressure. Consider, for example, the historic case of iconic Australian company Bunnings which responded to organised consumer and advocacy pressure to becoming a champion against illegal timber imports.
The marketing and branding budgets of big corporations which showcase often extensive claims about the social and environmental credentials of their products illustrate the power of consumer demand for ethical sourcing. None of this would have come about without the organised power of consumers, that Morrison wants to ban.
What Morrison is threatening would constitute an extraordinary violation of the rights and freedoms of citizens within a liberal democratic market economy.
The real problem here is not Australian people exercising their democratic and consumer rights, but a government that has been institutionally corrupted by the coal industry.
- David Ritter is the chief executive of Greenpeace Australia Pacific.