Friday, November 20, 2009

Prostitution, fashion and communicating CSR

Embed. Once more. Interweave CSR into the fabric of your business. This is my fifth and final post on this subject, (for now!) inspired by Ethical Corporation's 2009 research report called How to Embed Corporate Responsibility across different parts of your Company.We already covered how people do it (embedding CSR in Human Resources ), how buyers buy it (Procurement function ), how accountants count it (Finance function ) and how truckers truck it (Operations and Logistics Function). Now, we examine how they all talk it. Embedding CSR in  corporate communications - internal, external, marcom and reporting.

With case studies and insights from the Man Group (don't worry girls, this isn't a gender thing, the Man group was founded by James Man over 225 years ago. Not his fault if he had a gender-biased name), Hewlett Packard, Novo Nordisk, BT, Vodafone, Starbucks, Pepsico and reference to research findings from McKinsey, embeddng communications covers reporting (ahaaaaaaaaaaa, my favourite subject. See ?  I saved the best for the last) and how to make reporting effective, marketing to consumers using CR messages, and communicating with your colleagues internally.

One of the things I liked in the research paper was a quotation from the Global Triple Bottom Line Management at Novo Nordisk who said that the report is a key method for "keeping the Company accountable for performance". This is often underestimated as a prime use for CSR reports. The more internal and external stakeholders that know about corporate goals and objectives, the more pressure there is on the individuals in the business to deliver. Another interviewee goes even further and says that reporting should drive behaviour change.  In my experience, this does happen.

Another thing about CSR communications is that the core message should be spead by every employee in the Company, in a way that is relevant to her or him, and her or his role in the business, and in her or his own words. I will illustrate this with an example  from one of my clients in the local market.

Communications and dialogue has long been at the heart of the comme il faut fashion house in Israel. Every bi-annual fashion collection is supported by a social campaign which involves employees and customers in dialogue.

 from comme il faut Winter 2010 collection

Last season's campaign, a bold move, was centered around customers bringing to the Company an unwanted bra, in return for which they received a discount on new purchases, whilst the Company donated cash to support healthcare for women trapped in prostitution. You can imagine that the subject of prostitution is not one which is easily introduced into the world of  fashion, beauty, positive body image etc, and it was not without a certain trepidation that this company for women, known to be outspoken in promoting women's rights, decided to stand up publicly for women who have been abused by society. Before this campaign launched, many internal dialogues were held with employees of the fashion house, both to help them understand the plight of women trapped in prostitution and protitution survivors, who still need much support, and also to build their skills in engaging customers on this subject.  I facilitated many of these conversations and was fascinated by the range of insights this brought out. Subsequently, during the campaign, each of the several thousand customers who donated a bra engaged in a conversation about prostitution and also benefited  from new insights.

The current campaign  for the Winter 2010 collection is themed Re-fashion, and looks at what endears us to certain items of clothing year after year, and how we can re-fashion and re-fresh them so that they can serve us even longer, inspired by the principles of environmentally preferable "slow-fashion" . Customers bring in an item of clothing, which the comme il faut designers examine in order to understand why  that particular garment is so special that it stands the test of time. The customer gains a discount on new purchases and the opportunity to win a $5,000 new wardrobe. And women trapped in prostitution get a new garment as a gift from comme il faut for every old one that is brought in. This has doubled the conversation effect. Not only is the social content still present, but now the Company can engage customers in conversation about their most intimate reasons for wearing the same pair of trousers, or the same blouse or skirt, year after year, and use the customer experience in the new garment design process.  

Why is all this important ? Because these campaigns embrace the principles of corporate social responsibility in processes based on communications. They require every employee in the business to understand and engage with the campaign and what the Company is trying to communicate. It makes them think about their own role in supporting the campaign and furthering the commercial and social objectives. And it help them understand the way others think and use this in making business decisions.  And this, in my view, is what embedding CSR is all about.

By the way, you can read comme il faut's CSR report (I led the writing of this report) here.

I have now completed my series of posts on embedding CSR in different functions of the business. Thank you to Ethical Corp for the research report which prompted this series. And now, if you see me walking around in my undies, the reason is probably that i gave all the rest of my clothes to comme il faut ....

elaine cohen is the joint CEO of BeyondBusiness, a leading reporting and social-environmental consulting firm . Visit our website at:


Anonymous said...

Hi Elaine
As always, I enjoy reading how you turn professional theory into business reality. Very inspiring!
Shirley Kantor Shani

elaine said...

hello Shirley, thank you very much for your comments! Of course, as consultants, it give us great satisfaction to be able to assist companies putting things into practice, rather than just talking :) Thanks for reading the blog! Bye for now, elaine

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