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In the UK, the Sunday Times reports that Andy Bond, CEO of Walmart-owned Asda Group, plans to make a speech this week attacking what he sees as a growing nanny state, restricting what people are able to buy and how they behave through expanded regulation.

In a speech this week to the British Retail Consortium, Bond plans to say: “We all, including government, need to tread a fine line when it comes to constraining consumer behaviour in areas where we think change is required - whether that be carrier-bag usage, alcohol consumption or even the sale of food deemed unhealthy … We need to ensure we are primarily focused on behaviour change through education, not constraint. This whole trend toward greater central control and constraint has created a new political language where people talk about central government and business in the role of Big Mother rather than Big Brother.”

KC's View:
This needs to be said, if only because both government and business need to understand that they cannot force-feed socially responsible attitudes to consumers. If people don’t want to eat healthy foods, all the regulation in the world won’t help. What is important – and hopefully more effective because people actually integrate the healthier foods into their lives – is providing actionable information about why some choices are better than others.

I would argue, however, that there are some ways in which business can and should lead. If, as I believe, it is concluded that the use of non-disposable canvas bags is better for the environment than the use of disposable sacks, then I don’t think there is anything wrong with a retailer adopting marketing and operational practices that move the company and its shoppers away from the latter through a variety of means. There are limits to the validity of the “I was just following orders” defense, even if the orders are coming from the shopper.

Besides, I would also argue that the shift to canvas bags is good for a retailer’s bottom line, which would ordinarily be reason enough to make the move and nobody would be discussing the nanny state; it’s only when you use words like “the environment” that people suddenly get suspicious and cynical about motives.