What have the end of the recycling chain, last mile logistics, deforestation and human rights abuse got in common?

They are all right at the end of their respective chains. They are often where the money isn’t, in a sense (no margins, low margins, desperate business models).

Take last mile logistics for example, the desperate business models that make freelance cyclists and motorcyclists work on time-based piece rate models, is about as low end as it gets. Think about deforestation. Much is organised and bigger business, but a lot of it can be desperate farmers looking to feed families (not everywhere I know).

Consider human rights abuses in say, Thai fishing. These have been, and continue to be, about as bad as you can get. Why? There’s no margin in fishing in the Indian Ocean any more. So human rights suffer. Finally, recycling. That last bit of separating, sorting and recycling rubbish has lacked a business model for decades.

Now, as we know, we’ve hit close to the end of the road in terms of exporting the problem. So all these seemingly disparate areas have something in common. Business model desperation driving awfulness.

So what’s the solution? Well, I may have one. Actually it’s not really my idea, but one I have tried to propagate a bit once I understood it. A clumsy way to put it is “blind trusts”, another is “responsibility deals“.

Whatever you call them, these collaborative mechanism seem like the only way to handle these end of the value chain problems that government used to handle for us with regulation or support or even, gasp, services (inefficient as they were).

Here’s an example of how this collaborative model could work, as outlined by David Cleary at the Nature Conservancy. It’s starting to happen, and we need more serious conversation about it. One could argue that the Bangladesh Accord is another such mechanism.

These are never perfect, always messy, often confusing, and take years to have an impact.

But a bit like democracy, this is the best we’ve got, so let’s get on with studying it, and making it happen.