The UN theme for International Women’s Day on Saturday is: Equality for women is progress for all. One glance at the FT graphic on women in senior management, published on Friday, suggests this progress is now happening on a global scale – but with some perhaps surprising results.
When L’Oréal said last week it would stop selling Garnier products in China, many outsiders assumed the French cosmetics group was joining a wholesale retreat by big western brands, led by Revlon of the US, which last month closed all its operations in mainland China, eliminating 1,100 jobs, including those of 940 beauty advisers. It all looked pretty ugly.
In the middle of the western world’s annual holiday shopping spree – which runs from the day after Thanksgiving to the end of the January sales – even hardened shoppers may occasionally feel exploited.
Many economists – including the FT’s Chris Giles – feel the anti-consumption mood is “profoundly wrong”. Business academic Linda Scott, whom I interviewed for the FT’s “Thinking Big” series of videos on radical ideas, goes a step further: she believes the consumer free market has the potential to unleash vast benefits, particularly for women in developing countries – as consumers, investors, donors and workers.
When David Cameron visits Kazakhstan next week to expand trade links with the vast central Asian country, the British prime minister might ponder a recent piece of business. Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation, the Kazakh company that has tarnished the City of London, wants to go private again, angering investors amid a UK Serious Fraud Office inquiry.
Rakesh Kapoor has been in charge of Reckitt Benckiser for less than a year but already he’s changed the world. Or, more accurately, he’s changed Reckitt’s view of the world, by merging its European and North American operations into one Amsterdam-based unit, and splitting the rest of the world into two reporting areas.
Like three ugly sisters, the new operations are called Ena, Rumea (Russia, Middle East, Africa) and Lapac (Latin America and Asia-Pacific). Stefan Wagstyl has pointed out on the FT beyondbrics blog that the clear message is that “emerging markets matter” for the multinational consumer goods group.
Reckitt’s change is more than a laborious redrafting of the corporate organigram. Pankaj Ghemawat wrote in World 3.0 that General Motors’ decision to make many of its non-US, non-European operations report to China was “a basic realignment of power”. The impact of Reckitt’s move to aim resources more directly at growing markets could be just as profound.