When David Cooke was the first non-Japanese managing director of Konica Minolta Australia, from 2013-2020, he did much to implement socially progressive policies, including championing gender equality, bringing in domestic violence leave and deep support for several charitable causes.
On his first day, Cooke asked the staff for their ideas. “I wrote to them all and said, ‘I want us all to work together to build a company that cares – cares about the people who work here, cares about our customers and cares about our community. But there’s only one problem: I don’t know how to do it and I need your help,’” recalls Cooke, who today has his own consultancy, ESG Advisory.
During Cooke’s first year, Konica Minolta’s Australian arm achieved its best results ever. “One of the charities we supported was in Cambodia, rescuing young girls who had been trafficked into sexual slavery,” says Cooke, who has spoken at the UN in Geneva on Business and Human Rights and the UN in New York on Gender Equality. “Everybody in the company was really behind this and it was transformative for our organisation.”
Cooke estimates he had 400-500 people on staff at the time and says they were buoyed by a culture that listened to their ideas and valued success outside sales metrics. “We turned around our company and engaged all of our people because we did those things and they didn’t get in the way of our commercial results.”
Speaking at Qantas magazine’s Think. event, held in association with LSH Auto Australia, at Sydney’s Seta restaurant, Cook recalled a horrifying moment that changed the course of his career.
During a corporate retreat in Thailand, the widespread issue of modern slavery became frighteningly clear. The group was having dinner on a clipper ship and during a talk, the cruise director explained that all the dots of lights around them were fishing vessels. She then told a horrific story about boarding one vessel just a week before, hoping to find out more about the fishermen for her guests.
“The captain invited them on and the woman saw an emaciated man on the deck of the boat, with a collar around his neck. She asked, ‘Who’s that?’, and the Thai fishing captain said, ‘Oh, it’s a slave,’” says Cooke. “Notice the dehumanising language. When the woman told him, ‘You can’t have slaves’, he swept his arm indicating the hundreds of other boats and replied, ‘Most of us have slaves.’”
The cruise director negotiated to buy the man’s freedom for US$700. “When I heard that story, I thought, ‘There are probably 50,000 fishing vessels off the Thai coast and if seafood produced in that way can find its way into the supply chains of the biggest food companies in the world, there must be goods produced by slaves, forced labour and exploited people finding its way into the supply chain of Konica Minolta,’” recalls Cooke.
So he turned his eye to his own business – the overseas factories making its products and components, as well as the origins of purchases such as uniforms, office furniture, laptops and tech.
“We thought we were a good company but we were blind to the abuses going on within our operation’s supply chain and we decided to do something about it,” says Cooke.
Soon after, he hired Konica Minolta Australia’s first ethical sourcing manager. “We had to ensure that we were not exploiting people for profits. My view is that as a responsible business leader, you have as much responsibility to those people as you do to your own employees. I don't see any difference.”
Think. is a thought-leadership event and content series, presented by Qantas magazine and in association with LSH Auto Australia – the country’s leading Mercedes-Benz dealer group. Find out more about LSH Auto Australia.