Thoughts on Brew | Subscribe News

Turning a bad reputation round can take years of good leadership

A group of garment workers protest against Nike claiming they were laid off without compensation from a Thai factory that produced garments for the company after the factory closed down. Photograph: Reuters Photographer / Reuters/REUTERS

A group of garment workers protest against Nike claiming they were laid off without compensation from a Thai factory that produced garments for the company after the factory closed down. Photograph: Reuters Photographer / Reuters/REUTERS

In the new-age of total disclosure and transparency, corporate organizations need to shun the idea of soft pedaling on critical social and environmental issues. Long term sustainability cannot be attained by harming ecological assets or marginalized communities. Many companies have learnt their lessons the hard way in the past. Today’s generation is far more advanced. Their ability to demand or acquire information and their ability to disseminate opinions freely and quickly can spell disaster for companies within a matter of minutes.

Editor- ThinktoSustain-Marketspace


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Turning a bad reputation round can take years of good leadership” was written by Matthew Jenkin, for theguardian.com on Friday 12th June 2015 12.40 UTC

In 2011, Asia Pulp and Paper’s reputation was in tatters. Thanks to an aggressive Greenpeace campaign, the Indonesian business went from the world’s biggest pulp and paper company to a brand better known for destroying pristine rainforest and driving species to the brink of extinction.

Mattel, Disney and Unilever were among the 130 major companies to sever ties with APP and the future looked uncertain for the beleaguered family firm. But just two years later it was back in business with a whole new green agenda, which included a deforestation policy that promised to help preserve high-carbon stock rainforests.

In a world where a business can be brought to its knees by a single tweet or a viral video campaign, APP was right to take drastic action to salvage its tarnished reputation. Although the company still has a long way to go to implement all the measures it pledged, a Rainforest Alliance evaluation of the company published earlier this year suggests it is sincere.

But how does a company whose name has been dragged through the proverbial mud win back the public’s trust? And how do you ensure that a values clean-up is more than just greenwash?

Aida Greenbury, APP’s sustainability director, says the most important aspect of the journey to restore their reputation has been “transparency, transparency and transparency”. This included being upfront with NGOs about their operations and inviting Greenpeace into the boardroom.

However, Greenbury admits that implementing the company’s new policies at all levels of the business continues to be a struggle. She says that talking about values is easy, but with more than 100,000 employees to educate – from the forest floor to the mill – living them is a huge mountain to climb.

She adds that many of the staff on the ground lack a basic understanding of climate change. It is therefore essential that leaders “roll up their sleeves” to also work with people at the bottom of the supply chain to help make changes.

“You need to reach out to these people to make sure that the product that ends up on the shelf is responsibly managed,” she insists. “That’s the only way: you cannot just claim to be responsible by producing a policy.”

Double standards

In a world of total transparency global firms which trumpet their values and ethical practices at home but fail to meet their own high standards elsewhere open themselves up to accusations of hypocrisy and double standards.

Aron Cramer, president and CEO of sustainability consultancy BSR, claims that fixing a problem in one corner of the world and leaving it festering in another is neither effective nor credible.

One company which serves as an optimistic example of how a business can transform its values is Nike. The clothing Goliath faced withering criticism in the 1990s over its double standards concerning labour rights and conditions for workers in developing countries, but successfully turned the situation into an opportunity that not only repaired their reputation but also strengthened the business.

What Nike did right, says Cramer, is they made the decision to do things differently then went straight to the core of the problem, putting in place a number of changes which have made its supply chain fairer. The firm also established a number of partnerships to help them find systemic solutions.

“Nike was not the only company that faced big issues in the supply chain,” explains Cramer. “One way was to work with industry partners, such as trade unions, civil society organisations, as well as academics, to help study the issue and find new answers to the problem.

“You can get into trouble on your own but you often can’t get out of it by yourself. That is both true for creating solutions and regaining credibility and trust.”

No quick-wins

Footprint, a sustainability consultancy working in the food industry, has worked with some of the world’s biggest food companies to help them drive sustainability initiatives throughout their supply chains. Its managing director, Charles Miers, warns that reputational change is a long journey, particularly if the organisation has a lot to repair.

The consultancy’s former client Nestlé has been dogged by scandal and controversy over its operations, from the marketing of babymilk formula in the developing world and trying to sue the famine-stricken government of Ethiopa for $6m (but later backing down) to its refusal to stop bottling water in drought stricken California. In recent years, however, the Swiss-based multinational has tried to show it does care by sourcing certified palm oil for its chocolate, achieving zero-waste-to-landfill and cutting carbon emissions by 10%.

Business leaders at companies such as Nestlé, Miers says, have had to tread very carefully when trying to fix their damaged image. In an interconnected global society where information is freely available, companies can’t get away with greenwash.

A bad reputation, he adds, can be hard to shake and a brand owner needs to be realistic about that. It’s crucial therefore that any turnaround is genuine. If something is not done with the right intentions, the public will smell it.

Miers says: “You see grandiose statements made all the time with very little to back it up and that you just can’t get away with it. It is a journey and you can’t be an organisation that has had its reputation knocked in the past and then suddenly expect to appear squeaky clean. That’s why being able to measure your successes is absolutely key.”

“It’s alright saying you want to be a more ethical organisation with less impact on supply chains, but that’s a very broad brief,” says Miers. “Exactly how are you going to achieve it? What issues are important to you and the consumers and how are you going to be genuine about it?”

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

Comments are closed.

A sample text widget

Etiam pulvinar consectetur dolor sed malesuada. Ut convallis euismod dolor nec pretium. Nunc ut tristique massa.

Nam sodales mi vitae dolor ullamcorper et vulputate enim accumsan. Morbi orci magna, tincidunt vitae molestie nec, molestie at mi. Nulla nulla lorem, suscipit in posuere in, interdum non magna.