CSR Versus Brand Purpose: Paying Lip Service to Inclusivity?

Campaigns for gender equality, increased women’s rights, and eco-friendly workplaces are now the well-accepted, valued norm. There’s no doubt that we’re conscious of our impact on the outer world in our work – now more than ever.

But what happens when International Women’s Day is over? Do these companies follow through on their claims of social justice in the long-term? Or have campaigns like Pride and #zerowaste become a brand in themselves – more about company image than genuine social responsibility?

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) involves brands ingraining their claims into their continued actions. For those who practice it, CSR becomes an intrinsic part of company culture and ethos – the backbone of how they think, behave and ultimately perform.

But there must be longevity behind the claims made for CSR to represent a true action of change. An infamous example of hollow claims made by corporations was Wall Street’s famous Fearless Girl Statue.

The statue depicts a young girl defiantly staring down Wall Street’s famous bronze bull statue, installed to draw attention to gender inequality, and to empower the image of women in the corporate world.

Artist behind the statue, Kristen Visbal, said of the girl, “her message goes far beyond the corporate environment,” and that, “she represents what any little girl could become.”

However, the girl’s presence has been criticized as a marketing ploy with little true substance. Ginia Bellafante from The New York Times said that, “we might note with some irony, absent the depiction of an actual woman.”

And in another ironic turn of events, the firm behind the statue is being sued $5m in a row over gender inequalities in its pay, with State Street Global Advisors (SSGA) accused by the US Department of Labor of paying hundreds of its female executives less than their male counterparts.

So, it would seem that SSGA’s Fearless Girl majorly missed the mark, instead apparently fearful of true legitimacy in its context, falling to shallow brand purposing.

An example of how to hit the nail on the head with the CSR approach is Aldi’s recent step towards sustainability, which really did promote a fearless approach to CSR.

The German supermarket chain announced that it will be scrapping traditional plastic bags from all its stores in favour of less harmful alternatives, as it works to phase out single-use plastics completely by 2020.  

Half of the stores across the country are to trial paper bags, and the other half will trial compostable bags in a bid to see which does best. Whichever option works better will be permanently implemented within all stores in the not-too-distant future.

The longevity of this empathy for the environment has been positively received by many since Aldi’s announcement, as it could avoid the use of over 100 tonnes of plastic a year, without increasing food waste.

Aldi’s UK Managing Director of corporate responsibility Fritz Walleczek said of the switch: “The trial of so-called ‘naked’ vegetables has had a very positive reception in Scotland and, as a result, we’re now looking to extend this trial into two of our regions in England.”

Dutiful to finding the best approach, inclusive of its consumers and conscious of its lasting impact, in my view, this campaign is one of genuine empathy and care towards a pressing issue.

This is what being socially responsible really looks like. Anyone can change the colours of their logo, anyone can spread the message to stand tall in the face of inequality, but backing your actions, with consistent and sustained change, is what really makes a difference.