With apologies to Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, it actually is revolution, not evolution on the table. In this case, I’m referring to a revolution of ethics in direct selling. Members of DSA have long recognized the requirement—and benefit—of increasingly rigorous and effective consumer and salesperson protections and have devoted significant effort and resources to that end. But as a channel, we cannot allow ourselves to be satisfied with merely a steady improvement in ethics and self-regulation. For direct selling to be acknowledged as the epitome of a progressive and responsive business model, our standards must be elevated to a level higher than even we, ourselves, have envisioned.
Executives from DSA member companies are coming together and identifying key areas as the core of the Association’s—and indeed the business model’s—strategic thinking; not least of which the imperative of equipping and promoting direct selling as the most ethical of marketplace forces. Stellar work has been done, but there is more to do. Let’s demonstrate how we are respectful of and responsive to the sensibilities of our salespeople and customers and thus ward off future unwarranted government regulation. If we commit to revolutionizing our entire approach to business ethics and self-regulation, we can demythify, once and for all, direct selling in the eyes of the public, the media, would-be salespeople and those regulators who have the power to affect our businesses.
For our ethics revolution to triumph, agreement from direct selling companies to a conscientious and concerted effort—orchestrated by DSA as steward of the channel—is vital. The Association has already begun its surge, in earnest. DSA’s Code of Ethics has long been applied to protect consumers, salespeople and the business model. The Association’s Ethics Committee and Board leadership have implemented significant enhancements to the Code and DSA’s self-regulatory programs to create greater transparency regarding Code complaints and enforcement actions, greater substantiation for product claims and stricter guidance on earnings claims.
While it is already a requirement for DSA members to link to the Code from their websites, the Association is encouraging member companies to promote the Code more assertively among their salesforces. In addition, DSA will review all member companies annually for Code compliance, regardless of specific complaints, and will monitor the web and social media activities of potential and current members and individual salespeople, with transgressions being automatically relayed to DSA staff and the Code Administrator. The Association will subsequently issue annual reports regarding each member company’s Code compliance record.
DSA also is reviewing its own membership application process, aimed at reinforcing the notion of an elite cadre of the most ethical and forward-thinking direct selling companies. A far more stringent admissions process may result in a more streamlined Association, which would provide a more prestigious “seal of approval” sought by many DSA members. DSA works hard to ensure that policy makers at every level have an understanding of direct selling. But the effectiveness of the Association’s advocacy efforts is directly related to the effectiveness of its self-regulatory efforts. Our enhanced reputation, born of stricter self-regulation, would facilitate increased leverage on behalf of members regarding a range of regulatory, legal, government relations and ethics-related issues.
DSA’s 2016 Growth & Outlook Report reveals that 20.2 million people were involved in direct selling in the United States during 2015. While motivations for becoming involved in direct selling may vary, our duty to those involved does not. DSA is spearheading the ethics revolution, but it is very much a collaborative effort. Direct selling executives and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) leadership recently convened at DSA’s Business & Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., and discussed numerous important ethics and self-regulatory issues. There will be further opportunity to exchange ideas during DSA’s Communications & Marketing Conference, Nov. 30 through Dec. 2, in Las Vegas. I urge you to join us (visit www.dsa.org). Let’s nail our colors to the mast and demonstrate to the world how direct selling leads the way in voluntarily designing, improving, adhering to and enforcing the highest self-regulatory and ethical best practices.
Joseph N. Mariano is President of the U.S. Direct Selling Association and the Direct Selling Education Foundation.