The Backlash To “Woke-Washing”

Do you believe companies should take full responsibility for their impacts on society? We certainly do! This sentiment is not just shared by us at Beneco, but new research by Salmat shows that many consumers make decisions based on ethics and a company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) commitments. The research shows 34% of shoppers are willing to pay more for environmentally friendly products and 31% admitted to not buying a product due to not aligning with the brand’s values and ethics.  

Many CSR initiatives are often still barebones programs that encourage companies to do the bare minimum, and worse still, other attempts at brand purpose and CSR initiatives are negatively impacted by irresponsible core business operations. 

The backlash to such duality has recently been demonstrated by negative social media reactions to Cadbury’s latest marketing campaign. To celebrate India’s Independence Day on August 15th, in an effort to support cultural diversity, Cadbury launched a limited edition “Unity Bar”. The chocolate bar, made up of four different shades of chocolate, had been designed to “Celebrate a country that stands united in its diversity”. Whilst this effort is all well and good, Cadbury has been ridiculed for espousing a brand purpose that benefits society, yet paying nothing in UK corporation tax last year despite huge profits. Cadbury’s owner Mondelēz UK reported profits of £185m last year, where £35m of this should have been owed in corporations tax. This is a significant amount that could have been put towards benefiting communities where the company operates. However, this tax was (legally) “avoided” by cleverly reducing its tax burden, to maximise shareholder value. Marketing Week has called the hypocrisy out as “woke-washing”.

For companies to avoid these negative backlashes, and truly live up to their brand purpose and values, they should put their responsibilities to stakeholders (beyond just shareholders) at the core of their business. One way to achieve this is to take a genuinely human-centred approach to business strategies. Cadbury as a company, was once a shining example of this. Its founder, John Cadbury, was originally interested in making tea, coffee, and chocolate products as a way of providing alternatives to alcohol during a dark period for the working class in the early 19th century. This is a perfect example of addressing societal needs through business.

Today, with all our pressing societal challenges, it’s more important than ever for the business world to provide the kind of leadership that John Cadbury was an example of. That’s why we stand firm in our commitment to helping organisations take a human-centred approach, particularly with innovation, to ensure that businesses actually benefit society. As they should.

By Joel Flude and Rosary Coloma

[Image credit: Metro UK]

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