Brands Taking Stands | Consumers Like Brands That Take Stands
Consumers Like Brands That Take Stands
Almost every company’s website has a section called “Our Values.” Many have a section titled “Our Mission,” sometimes related to the values commentary, and sometimes a standalone section. These statements usually spell out a business’s commitment to its employees and community, to its standards in its practices, and to its general reason for being, usually in fairly generic terms. Occasionally, there are specific references to causes with which the company is engaged, usually local or national charities or non-profit partner organizations.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with these proclamations. But in these turbulent times, they don’t seem to rise to the higher expectations that consumers and communities have about the larger purpose of business within society.
Some companies have stepped up their statements by using the term “purpose,” which implies a greater degree of engagement. This is where traditional corporate practice comes into the picture. Public companies have historically been very guarded about making any strong statement(s) that might offend customers, either existing or potential. “Taking sides” is seen as polarizing in itself, no matter the position taken.
However, many of the basic points covered in corporate values, mission, and purpose statements come down pretty explicitly on one side of several major issues. Companies often announce that they do not discriminate on the basis of gender, race, religion, or ethnicity; that they respect human rights; that they do not tolerate harassment or hate speech; that they expect the highest level of conduct from employees; and that they work at being environmentally friendly.
Ironically, many of these values, missions, and purposes actually describe what might be called “stands“ on issues from discrimination to social behaviors. Companies today are indeed taking positions on fundamental internal issues through policies that spell out their workplace codes of conduct, hiring practices, and supply chain sourcing, although perhaps not describing them as such. Whether acknowledged or not, much of business is trying to perform better. Taking explicit public stands on the big social and political issues of the day—immigration, climate change, gun control, and human rights—may be the most visible way in which change is transforming how companies do business, but it’s not the only choice. Progress is also being made internally, away from the media, by the thousands of people all around the world, from employees to consumers, who do the daily work and make daily choices about how to move business to better purpose.
After three years of increasing activity in this area, we’re beginning to arrive at the facts that prove the case. The latest data comes from Accenture Strategy, which has just released its latest Global Consumer Pulse Research. Its bottom-line conclusion: “A majority of consumers globally prefer buying from brands that take a stand on issues they care about.”
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NEWS YOU CAN USE
Sustainability Leader Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, Adds Up the Bottom Line
As he steps down as chief executive of the food and personal care conglomerate Unilever, Paul Polman is being celebrated as a pioneer in putting corporate social responsibility into bottom-line action. Called “a champion of the multi-stakeholder model of capitalism, who dared [my italics] put environmental and ethical issues on the same footing as generating profits for shareholders” by the Financial Times, Polman was a highly visible C-suite driver of introducing sustainability into every aspect of the company’s operations, from sourcing to packaging to products. But his legacy also includes an approach to the bottom line that deserves attention. When he took the helm in 2009, Unilever was stagnant in growth and losing market share. Polman’s reaction to this situation in his first week on the job? To eliminate short-term quarterly reporting so that he could rebuild the company away from investor pressure. The bottom line as he leaves? “Unilever’s total shareholder returns over the period were 282 percent with dividends reinvested, according to Bloomberg, versus 182 percent for Nestlé, or 131 percent for the FTSE index.”
The company’s stock price gain over Polman’s tenure is 184 percent versus rival Nestlé’s 104 percent advance during the same time period.
Polman’s performance when measured financially as well as ethically, make his example a great model for future global CEOs.
Opioid Crisis Initiative Adds to Bloomberg Policy Portfolio
As the opioid crisis continues to blight the country with little attention from the federal government, the private sector is stepping in to take action. Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charity operation of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is donating $50 million over the next three years to 10 states to strengthen treatment programs and to address causes of addition.
Bloomberg Philanthropies said it would help 10 states fight the causes of opioid addiction and strengthen prevention and treatment programs. Bloomberg’s charity said CDC data shows there were more than 70,000 U.S. drug overdose deaths last year, including more than 47,000 from opioids, the highest numbers on record.
Speaking at the inaugural Bloomberg American Health summit in Washington D.C., Bloomberg said, “We are experiencing a national crisis: For the first time since World War I, life expectancy in the U.S. has declined over the past three years—and opioids are a big reason why. We cannot sit by and allow this alarming trend to continue—not when so many Americans are being killed in what should be the prime of their lives.”
The opioid issue is the latest public policy marker laid down by Bloomberg. It follows his actions to lead on climate change and gun control. This portfolio of initiatives on major public issues is beginning to look like that of a potential presidential candidate,even if it harkens back to the days when the national political discourse focused on issues, not partisan warfare and personal insult. Bloomberg has said he is considering a 2020 presidential bid; he has previously registered as an independent and a Republican, but most recently has declared allegiance to the Democratic Party. He invested heavily in the recent 2018 mid-term elections to help elect Democrats. If he runs, even if only to ensure that the debates include addressing such large issues as public health, gun violence, and the environment, it would be the biggest step yet taken by business to drive progressive change in the social sphere.
In addition, the defense contractor Leidos, which last year took the corporate lead on addressing the opioid crisis, has issued an update in the form of a white paper. “Understanding the Opioid Epidemic” outlines the sobering news. Last month, Leidos chairman and CEO Roger Krone attended a White House event for the signing of the “Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities Act”, committing his support along with leaders from 20 other participating companies. Krone was given a CR Magazine Responsible CEO award at the 2017 3BL Forum for his leadership on the issue.
Ford Announces First-Ever Human Rights Review by an Automaker
There is some good news to note about the auto industry behind the recent headlines about layoffs and tariff wars. Ford has completed a “saliency assessment,” a review that identifies nine of the most important human rights issues relevant to the company. The issues described are those “at risk of the most severe negative impact through activities or business relationships.” They are: Product safety and quality; harassment and discrimination; responsible sourcing of raw materials; health and safety; climate change; air quality; access to water and sanitation; and forced labor and child labor. The assessment was conducted in line with the UN Guiding Principles Reporting Framework.
The automaker says it will now develop an action plan to address these issues, through a specific filter of the link between environmental issues and the human rights issues that emerged from the review.
“This is the first time that we at Ford have really started to combine human rights issues with environmental issues,” said Mary Wroten, director, corporate sustainability. “What we need to remember is that people and the planet are connected, and that’s what we need to talk more about.”
News about the auto industry tends to focus on technological disruption: Electric vehicles, self-driving cars, and Internet-based functionality. I would argue that a holistic overview such as that of Ford’s review has the potential for introducing just as much meaningful change into the industry as any shift in energy sourcing or computer-driven features.
December 7th: Day of Understanding
On December 7th, CEO Action signatory companies will come together to take a bold action and host a daylong discussion on understanding within each of their respective companies in order to further embrace difference in our organizations, educate our people and build more inclusive cultures inside and outside of our workplaces.
One of the core commitments within CEO Action is to make our workplaces trusting places to have complex, and sometimes difficult, conversations about diversity and inclusion. By encouraging an ongoing dialogue, we are building trust, encouraging compassion and open-mindedness, and reinforcing our commitment to a culture of inclusivity across our companies.
Each session will look different depending on the company, key issues it wants to tackle, nature and geography of its workforce (virtual, across multiple locations, all in one location etc.) Each session will be adapted to the organizational culture of the firm. However, the goal remains the same: Build a more trusting place to have complex, and sometimes difficult, conversations about diversity and inclusion.
For more information: click here.
“I don’t think the next globally impactful company is going to be able to sit on the fence. I think it’s going to have to say: ‘This is what we believe in’.”
—Tom Blomfield, CEO and co-founder, Monzo
excerpted from Financial Times
PEOPLE ON THE MOVE
Kristie Middleton has been named vice president of business development for Seattle Food Tech. Middleton will lead a multifaceted branding, outreach, distribution, and sales effort to bring SFT’s plant-based chicken products to schools, hospitals, universities, and the military. She joins SFT from her position as managing director of farm animal protection at the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). During her time at HSUS, she directed the group’s efforts to promote plant-based eating among food service management corporations and institutions across the United States. Middleton partnered with the nation’s biggest school districts including Los Angeles, Detroit, and Houston and major food companies to implement plant-based initiatives such as Meatless Monday.