How to not end up on the boycott list

This week we have a guest blog from Oresa friend, Sara Vaughan.

Sara is an Innovator, Creator Brands with Purpose and Positive Change Maker. Formerly in-house at De Beers – where she launched Forevermark, The Body Shop and Unilever where she was a Vice-President, she now has her own consultancy working with companies and brands such as Unilever, Reckitt Benckiser and Danone to innovate create and develop their purpose.

She is also Global Chief Purpose & Sustainability Advisor to Marie Claire which reaches 77m women and girls around the world, Advisory Chair of Playmob the gaming for good company and Advisory Chair of Stories for Change & Homeless Stories.

How to not end up on the boycott list

According to newly published research by Porter Novelli over 70% of U.S. consumers say they will stop purchasing products from companies they perceived to be irresponsible during this pandemic. Which as Kate Cusick CMO of Porter Novelli says, “only reinforces the importance of leading with integrity, honesty, compassion and ultimately, purpose.”

So how do you lead with integrity, honesty, compassion and purpose during these uncertain times? Here are five top tips to help you on your way.

1. Walk your talk. 

Never has it been more important to have a corporate purpose beyond profit and to act on it. As Jon O’Brien EMEA Managing Partner of the One Hundred Agency writes, “Selfish, singular money-based motivation will simply not cut it in either this crisis or the purposeful age. It’s certainly a big ask for businesses when this crisis is hitting finances hard, but in this fast-changing VUCA world of ours, it is only purpose-led companies and brands that will survive. For those that already have a purpose and are not acting on it, the public has seemingly reserved them a special place in hell. For instance, a certain airline whose purpose is, “changing business for good” was heavily criticised after it told staff to take eight weeks of unpaid leave. Echoing the sentiment of the general public, the shadow transport secretary, Andy McDonald said, “it is a disgrace for a company owned by a billionaire to ask its employees to live without wages for two months in the middle of a crisis.”

furlough communication

2. Look after your employees. 

Ensure they not only stay safe but continue to receive pay and benefits. Purpose pioneer, Unilever announced on the 24th March that it would, “protect its (global) workforce from sudden drops in pay, as a result of market disruption or being unable to perform their role, for up to three months.” This to include their employees, contractors and others who they manage or who work on their sites, on a full or part-time basis. Aldi has announced a 10% bonus going to all its “amazing” hardworking colleagues (but not its senior management). Timpson who employs over 5,500 people in the UK has all of its staff which they call “it’s family” on full pay till the crisis is over. It also has mental health councillors and a Hardship Fund for those who are struggling financially. In stark contrast, a national pub chain boss announced to their 43,000 staff that it could not pay them until the company was reimbursed for their wages by the government and suggested that they get a job with Tesco. Public outcry was vocal and swift. A U-turn ensued, with the company agreeing to pay up to 80% of their wages.

remote team

3. Look after your customers & communities.

In the long-run, they will look after you. By example, Reckitt Benckiser has mobilized £32 million as part of their RB Fight for Access Fund to address “our collective fight against the spread of Covid-19” with an immediate focus on their consumers and the communities where they operate. Morrisons has given £10m to food banks, Uber has given 200,000 free rides to NHS staff. Unilever is contributing €100m to help the fight against the pandemic through donations of soap, sanitiser, bleach and food. CanO Water has been donating water to a volunteer organisation, Under One Sky to help keep London’s homeless hydrated. Salcombe Gin has turned to making hand sanitisers as has Evian. Melissa Odabash who has been manufacturing swimwear in Italy for over 20 years is now turning out 3,200 face masks a day for the Italian government rather than bikinis.

4. Look after your suppliers. 

Your business is only as robust and sustainable as your suppliers. Again, Unilever has really led the charge here offering €500m of cash flow relief to support livelihoods across its extended value chain, through early payment for their most vulnerable small and medium-sized suppliers, to help them with financial liquidity. Additionally by extending credit to selected small-scale retail customers whose business relies on Unilever, to help them manage and protect jobs. 

H&M headed by new CEO Helena Helmersson (their former Sustainability Chief), has paid for their orders that were already completed or were in progress. However, the fact still remains, that there are an estimated 450 million people working in global supply chains, many of whom face reduced income or job loss as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and many suppliers in Myanmar, Cambodia, and Bangladesh have suspended work without paying workers even for work already completed. Shocking but true. How are they to even afford to feed their families? The simple truth is they can’t.

PR during covid:19

5. Don’t take advantage of the taxpayer. 

Jacinda Arden and all her government ministers have taken a 20% pay cut. President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa has announced that the deputy president, members of the cabinet, and he, himself will all take a 33% pay cut as part of a contribution to South Africa’s fight against the coronavirus. Many major company CEOs have done the same or taken themselves off the payroll altogether such as Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson, pledging not to make layoffs. Denmark has even announced that any companies registered in tax havens will not be eligible for state aid programmes during the pandemic. Meanwhile, MPs here have just been handed an above-inflation pay rise and told they can claim an extra £10,000 in expenses (for working from home during the pandemic) whilst only 2% of Conservative MPs reportedly support a pay rise for nurses. 

A certain airline is going ahead with a £174 million dividend payout to shareholders including £60m to its founder, despite appealing for taxpayer support. The Premier League is being accused of moral bankruptcy, as its clubs pocket taxpayers money for non-football staff whilst continuing to pay players more than £100,000 a week. As Julian Knight, chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee says, ‘What sticks in the throat is to see players at home collecting large sums of money while relying on taxpayers to meet 80 per cent [of salaries under the furlough scheme.] That strikes me as morally wrong and not what the furlough scheme is for.”

Follow these five tips and whilst things may get very tough indeed they will ensure you a great deal of goodwill and ultimately your long-term survival. Employees will willingly bend over backwards to help you get back on your feet. So will your suppliers. Returning customers and the public will actively seek out your products whilst boycotting those that did not tread this path. For them, the pandemic itself may not sound their death knell. The unforgiving public will. 

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