The recent civil uprisings against tyranny in countries such as Syria and Egypt has brought into question the ethics of certain companies operating in countries run by dictatorships.
Mahatma Gandhi once quipped “Non-cooperation with the evil is as much a duty as is co-operation with good”. Even Henry Ford is quoted as saying “Business that makes nothing but money is a poor kind of business”.
Integrity in business is crucial and any company that is not true to its moral values will in time be exposed. And when the name of a company becomes mud it can be a long climb back out of the quagmire. It is the PR consultant’s role to guide the morality of a course and, at least, to help envision the fallout.
During the last decade or so expectations regarding ethics has increased phenomenally. It means different things to different people, whether it is sustainable farming; supporting third world producers; fair-trade or developing community owned renewable energy initiatives.
One thing’s for sure it has become a much over-used word and it is the companies whose ethics flows from the top down and permeates throughout the company mindset who will be sustainable in the long term.
In an idealistic world what we need is true free and fair trade, with no barriers, and efficient markets. However, we live in the real world where corruption and human rights violations prevail.
That does not mean to say the commercial sector cannot use its influence to make things better for the people of these countries. As in the case of specialist food supplier to the supermarkets and independents, Community Foods, with its Good Food Foundation which has supported small producers in India, China and Africa.
We have witnessed how consumers have successfully lobbied against the use of child labour and sweatshops by leading fashion brands with the result that a whole new market of ethical fashion labels has emerged. ‘Greenwash’ is not an option in these social media days where news, especially bad news, gushes in an instant. The truth will out.
As PR professionals we need to ensure that consumers are well informed and that a company’s operation is transparent so that consumers can make purchase decisions based on good ethics. A PR company does not only have a duty towards its clients but also towards the consumer.
Barbara Rayner runs Rayner Marketing, a PR company that specialises in ethical campaigns.