Saturday, February 1, 2014

B Team Leaders Make a Statement on Human Rights in Davos

My interest is education (consumer and institutional), marketing and corporate communication. I believe that consumer demand for sustainable products and better corporate behavior will be THE driving factor in forcing companies to make the investment and choices needed towards sustainability. But this is only one approach in what I believe must be a concerted effort on various fronts:
Although approaching the firm's leadership from the top is a necessary and effective strategy, as BTeam is doing at DAVOS, I believe you have to have a multi-thrust strategy, simultaneously, to be truly effective.
These are the areas of activities:
1. Focus on Corporate Leadership,
2. Add Metric Evaluation and Certification by third-party organizations of firm's activities,
3. Provide massive Customer/Citizen/Student awareness through marketing and education,
4. Get Government to regulate, fund and act. 
Finally, because the world is a big place and there is so much diversity in culture and procedure, after that comes localization and regional organization to implement these activities, tailored to the individual environment.
Regarding the consumer, demand from this sector will hit companies harder and faster than slower changes within the other sectors mentioned. Why? Because consumers (B2B or B2C) hold the power but don't know it! As soon as the consumer stops buying, companies scramble and spend to recapture or create new demand.
Companies believe they understand and can control their markets if there is enough spend.  They don't however fully understand the power of community and the need to partner with them, not control them. What would happen if the consumer is organized to create demand in the first place? What if the majority of consumers dictates today what future products must look like, and demand a certain behavior from companies? Actually this is already beginning to occur in a limited manner through online or physical community engagement whereby communities are self-organizing. In addition,  shareholders are taking a closer look and examining who and what they are investing in. They are starting to ask uncomfortable questions. But this movement is slow and fragmented.
More about the consumer: Many think the average consumer doesn't really care, but that is not true. The majority of average consumers worldwide , don't really understand what is going on. There are countless marketing studies that report the consumer is unhappy, mistrusting and confused about sustainability because of the media blitz primarily funded by corporate marketing. In spite of this confusion and mistrust, he knows "something must change". He does not know however, how to proceed. People (consumers, workers, community members) need education, enlightenment, marketing and media blitz to show them that they have the power to make choices.  First, they need to be shown how making ethical, sustainable decisions today affects them in their own world, in their own pockets.  Then it becomes real to them.  Regarding the West where the strongest consumer markets are, although one can be sympathetic, it is hard to be too concerned about what happens to workers in Bangladesh or Human Rights in the Congo when you yourself sit in your acclimatized living room eating the chocolate, children of Congolese farmers harvest. Do they really know the history of that Nestle's bar or MilkyWay? Maybe, yes. But Human Rights realities might hit "home" if the consumer was no longer able to buy chocolate bars, or coffee or even cotton t-shirts, because either the workers in these countries went on strike refusing to work at unjust wages, or the local water sources dried up completely making cotton unplantable, scarce and therefore exorbitantly expensive. Human nature dictates that consumers must see a direct impact within their own comfortable lives.
In Asia where the consumer market is exploding, The Chinese government is beginning to take a sharp and active eye into regulating and controlling sustainable corporate activities.  The East and West do not operate in the same way, but our goals are not dissimilar. Second, today's consumer wants to recognize the firm that has similar values to his own. Marketing studies show us that consumers loyally and heavily buy from firms, or brands that represent their own values. Who and where are those firms? Who really judges the sustainable actions and values of the firm? Right now, it is the firm itself. Hardly reliable.
The real question is Who will pay for shifting consumer marketing to focus on issues beyond just product or brand promotion? Reports tell us that there is only a 20-30% consumer recognition factor of third-party, independent Certification Authorities (Seals like WWF, FSC, MSC).  Here in Germany for example, our largest food chain group, Edeka, launched a media marketing campaign featuring Giant Pandas running around a supermarket, shopping, causing havoc and being cute. Even at the end of the spot whereby the WWF flashed and it was explained that there was no a partnership and Edeka would be featuring WWF-approved products, consumer and man-in-the-street interviews showed that the viewer didn't get it. They didn't recognize the Panda, the WWF logo or the meaning of the partnership.  The campaign was quickly pulled. It is still too early for this kind of connection/linking.  We are missing a step.
Why aren't these institutions doing more to advertise their value and importance as outside evaluators to the firm and to society?  No money.  Where should this money come from? Answer:  The firms themselves - how? Through a third party - The government where the firm is founded, perhaps via a Sustainability Tax.  Companies have to be the ones to pay. Many (but no not all) are responsible for the mess the world is in today. Plus, they are the only ones with money. Then through government funding and regulation, independent NGO's and NFP's would receive financial support (and needed scrutiny), and they can do the job of evaluation, regulation and certification, which in turn companies will seek to obtain. Then and only then, should firms position themselves as sustainable.
So you see, we need an orchestrated concerted effort in all areas, simultaneously.  It is too hard an uphill battle to focus on any one area without support in the other sectors of activity.


  1. Great article. :) Leadership is the best way to create better bond.

    1. Thanks Jenny. Leadership can come from all directions...including from the bottom! :)