Ep. 2 : are we an ethical business ?
Economics aside, this is a real question to us. I mean, we’re not Monsanto, but like any venture there are both good and bad things about On Your Way. On balance, we are comfortable with what we do – although we are very open to suggestions as to how we might improve – but would very much like to get your feedback on it. As mentioned in the previous post, neither Mané nor I are Lebanese so we feel the need to consult you, our Lebanese users, as to whether or not what we’re doing is a net positive or a net negative for the country.
We wanted to lay out clearly for the community what we think are the key questions at play here, without sugarcoating anything, so that you have all the information to make your decision as to whether you want to support the platform by keeping on using it. (This is not marketing bullshit, we’re actually ready to make drastic changes if it turns out that you all think what we’re doing is bad for the country/planet).
Let’s start with the bad:
As you know, our whole business was built around individual travelers, so products come into the country as personal items, just like they would when you bring back from the US a phone or piece of clothing for your cousin.
You could make an argument that it means we’re not doing our fair share like the gentleman below has (not sure why Mane liked the original post!).
You could also make an argument, as some of our users have, that the customs rules themselves are unfair and that in any case (we know this for a fact), our competitors are also not playing clean so should we be expected to?
We’re not the first community-based business to be in a grey legal area (AirBnB or Uber have been there, to name a couple prominent ones – hopefully we’ll grow to their level as well!), but this remains an issue we wanted to be entirely transparent on.
- The environment
A number of us internally at On Your Way are very concerned about the environment. Clearly, by helping people travel by plane for free, we are doing some harm. A return US-Lebanon trip, which is our most popular route, accounts for about 2 tons of CO2 equivalent (basically blowing an individual’s carbon budget for the year).
We are thinking of ways to mitigate this. We are in talks with the Lebanon Reforestation Initiative (check out their great work!) to set up an offset mechanism. Basically, we’d pay them to plant trees (including cedars) in Lebanon. Those trees would absorb, over their lifetime, as much carbon as our travelers generate. It’s not confirmed yet – we’ll keep you updated. Like all environmental compensation mechanism, it is not perfect. It would be better to minimize our emissions, but since the boat service between LA and Beirut is still not working, we don’t see how we could operate otherwise.
Moreover, we are contributing to the shopping culture that does no good to the planet. When we facilitate access to a luxury handbag, is it a good thing? We think/hope that what we sell is consumption that would have happened anyway (possibly through environmentally-worse options such as sometimes lower-quality, less-durable AliExpress merchandise), but we have no way to know this for sure.
But we’re not all bad ! The good:
- Reconnecting people
We have lived abroad, we know what it is to be far from family and friends. Every time our buyers make a purchase, it goes towards financing someone else’s trip to and from Lebanon. So, over the couple of years we’ve been active, we have helped (at least one!) long-distance relationship thrive, we’ve had family that hadn’t seen each other in years reconnect, we’ve brought Western tourists to Lebanon, Lebanese tourists to the West, and simply allowed some students to go back home more than they could have afforded.
2- Getting people the goods
Some products are just outrageously expensive or outright unavailable in Lebanon, for good or bad reasons. I think we’re doing good by having people pay much fairer prices on electronics, cosmetics, food supplements, books or super random stuff (collectibles, underwear, steel straws, organic seeds…).
Do let us know what you think !