Interview with Dr. Julian Conrads
"If we and our children want to live well on this planet in the long term, we need new approaches"
Our alumnus Dr. Julian Conrads studied at the WiSo-Faculty of Economics and Business Administration in the field of social sciences and subsequently completed his doctorate at the Seminar for Corporate Development and Business Ethics of Professor Bernd Irlenbusch.
Since 2017 Julian has been Corporate Responsibility Manager at FOND OF GmbH, the Cologne-based umbrella brand behind many well-known backpack brands such as ergobag, pinqponq and aevor.
We talked to him about his tasks as CR Manager, about sustainability and his time at the WiSo faculty. He also gave our students valuable tips.
Sustainable action is not a trend, but one of the existential challenges of mankind - sounds pompous but the bitter reality is.
Dear Julian, why is sustainability important to you? What does sustainability mean to you?
Sustainable action is not a trend, but one of the existential challenges of mankind - sounds pompous but is the bitter reality. We are currently systematically managing the natural capacities of our planet. The time window to counteract this is shrinking. Companies play a decisive role in this. I am glad that we at FOND OF truly try to live up to our corporate responsibility.
Personally, I was not a hardcore eco and had to learn a lot of contexts first. Since the birth of my son three years ago at the latest, it has finally clicked for me - we all have the responsibility to deal with our planet conscientiously. Of course, the individual has no influence and FOND OF as a medium-sized company does not really have any. But you have to start somewhere.
I don't want my children to tell me in 40 years that we didn't try to counteract it. Personally, this starts, for example, with questioning my own consumer behaviour - what do I really need and what is suggested to me?
In our view, CR management is a process of continuous improvement. In the end, you will probably never be right.
FOND OF has been awarded the "Leader Status" of the Fair Wear Foundation (FWF) this year. What does FWF do and what does the newly achieved "Leader Status" mean for you as a CR expert of FOND OF?
Together with FWF we try to live up to our social responsibility in the sewing factories of our supply chain.
The FWF is a multi-stakeholder initiative in which brands, NGOs and government institutions try to systematically improve working conditions in sewing factories in the textile industry.
An important pillar of the FWF is auditing according to recognised labour standards - including the prohibition of forced and child labour, occupational safety, wage payment and working hours. The status quo of these working conditions is checked by a team of auditors and the negative results are improved step by step in cooperation with the FWF, us and the factory.
FWF also conducts the annual Brand Performance Check (BPC). This is a thorough examination of how we as a brand deal with our partner factories. For example, how do we place orders, how much time and price pressure do we exert and how many of our factories have been independently audited. At the end of the BPC you get an evaluation.
This year, we succeeded in achieving the top marks - in other words, FWF Leader Status.
We are proud of this, but it also spurs us on to improve further and maintain our Leader Status. In our view, CR management is a process of continuous improvement. In the end, you will probably never be right.
The basis for improvement is to have transparency about your suppliers. This may sound trivial, but in the confused and complex textile industry with many suppliers and sub-suppliers and their subcontractors it is anything but easy.
How was the way there? What were your tasks and challenges?
The challenges are manifold.
The basis to improve is to have transparency about your suppliers. This sounds trivial, but in the confused and complex textile industry with many suppliers and sub-suppliers and their subcontractors it is anything but easy.
By now we know pretty much where what is sewn and by whom. But you first have to convince your suppliers that you want to carry out an FWF audit - that costs time and who wants to have their books looked at voluntarily.
Our approach is to establish long-term and trusting partnerships with a manageable number of suppliers - this is worthwhile from a CR perspective, as well as from the perspective of quality management and delivery reliability. Ultimately, it also pays off economically in the medium and long term.
One of the pillars of our CR strategy is to create awareness of the social and ecological challenges in the textile industry.
You have been the ambassador for Corporate Social Responsibility of the state of NRW since 2016. What is your task?
This office came to us rather by chance when we won the German Sustainability Award for Start Ups. We are relatively free to choose how we live this office.
One pillar of our CR strategy is to create awareness of the social and ecological challenges in the textile industry.
In addition to the social aspects described above, there are a number of ecological issues, such as the use of chemicals (especially for dyeing fabrics) and material selection (e.g. fabrics from recycled bottles).
As CSR ambassadors in (primary) schools, universities and at trade fairs and conferences, we try to explain what is behind a textile in order to make more conscientious purchasing decisions - we have already given presentations at the University of Cologne a few times.
The aim of my doctoral thesis was to find out under which conditions people behave unethically in economic decision-making situations.
As a doctoral student, you conducted a field experiment, a "Büdchen study", with two fellow students as part of your doctoral thesis
" and made quite an impression on the behavioural economists of this world. Can you tell us more about it?
The goal of my doctoral thesis was to find out under which conditions people behave unethically in economic decision-making situations. The vast majority of us usually act correctly. But sometimes we don't even notice that we act unethically - in behavioral research this is called "bounded ethicality".
The "Büdchen Study" is a project within my dissertation, where we investigated in a field experiment whether salespeople in Büdchen rip off their customers when buying sweets. We took advantage of the fact that some sellers have their trolleys on the counter to weigh the sweets - this is how the price is determined - while others place them behind the counter.
Afterwards we could weigh the candy bags again and check the correctness. In one third of the cases where the scale was not in sight, the sellers cheated a few cents more. All in all, we went to over 80 kiosks and tested various test arrangements.
The saying "Opportunity makes thieves" became partly true. All in all, it turned out that people tend to fib a little bit, but never so much that you would say in front of yourself that it was now reprehensible.
Overall, it turned out that people tend to fib a bit, but never so much that one would say in front of oneself that it was reprehensible now.
Who has inspired and/or supported you on your life and career path?
Prof. Axel Ockenfels gave me the impetus to engage in experimental economic research. In his introductory lecture on microeconomics he showed how he and modern economics empirically search for alternatives to the basic assumption of Homo Economicus. It made total sense to me at the time.
My PhD supervisor Prof. Bernd Irlenbusch then strongly influenced me to apply this research method to ethical questions. In this way, business ethics moved more into my field of vision. And then to take care of corporate responsibility at FOND OF is a kind of practical implementation.
Please complete the sentence: When I think back to my studies at the WiSo faculty, I think...
...ingenious inspirations, partly laborious memorization, making friends for life and countless coffees at the kiosk on Albertus-Magnus-Platz.
Enjoy the time and question the standard theories!
Tell us something about your plans or wishes for the future!
I want to continue learning and growing with FOND OF. We are on an exciting journey and I want us to live up to our corporate responsibility more and more.
Furthermore I will continue to cooperate with Bernd Irlenbusch.
Our goal is to bring the scientific findings of empirical business ethics to companies and make them usable. I would like to achieve all this in harmony with my family life. There is nothing more exciting than watching your child grow up.
What would you like to give our students in general? And what are your tips for our students?
Sounds precocious, but: Enjoy the time! Being able to deal with specific, sometimes abstract, topics at an intellectually challenging level is a privilege.
Question standard theories. Some of the old models focus too much on the short term. If we and our children want to live well on this planet in the long term, new approaches are needed - and very soon!
Thank you very much for the interview!
the questions were asked by Ayla Wisselinck