Today we turned 7 billion people on the earth. When I grew up in the 1980s, I remember we talked about turning 5 billion people. A magical number that made us learn about the world population in several weeks in school; discussing and drawing more or less successful children sketches of our multi-faceted and common world. My father has seen the world population triple fold in his life time; In 1940 there were 2,3 billion world citizens according to UN. UN estimates that the growth rate will now decline some, but still we will probably turn 9 billion people in 2050. What does these figures imply for manufacturing industries worldwide?
First, more people implies more consumer demand. With population growth, businesses can continue growth even in mature industries. The map above gives a good indication of where the growth markets are located. The downside is that more consumer demand also implies increased competition. Thus, the only way forward is still continuous improvement to beat off competition.
Second, more people implies more human resources to literally exploit. Statistically speaking, more people implies more poor people who will do anything for a job. This will certainly be exploited both by corporations and consumers world-wide – not because people are inherently evil – but because the systems we have today allow for, and partly encourage, such behaviour.
In conclusion, companies must do 2 things, consumers 1 thing, and political institutions 1 thing: Companies must continue improving their operations to stay in the market place, and they must acknowledge that the importance of corporate social responsibility (CSR) is increasing alongside the population growth. But business also need help from conscious consumers and public institutions. There is a clear need to build more transparency into supply chains, to support corporate social responsibility initiatives, so that end-consumers can take informed choices about the products and services they decide to buy. The technology is available, but the hard thing remains: How to build values and moral into our corporate return systems on a world-wide basis.