Corporate ethics are front and centre after the year 2020. Last year brought us the COVID-19 pandemic, Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death, the shocking Capitol Riots, and anti-CAA and farmers protests on a massive scale in India. These happenings have forced brands to reconsider their purpose. In fact, in the future they may well be judged on an ethical scoreboard. What a brand stands for has become as important as its offerings.
A Forbes magazine survey indicates that purpose went mainstream in the year 2020. Another survey by IBM found that 40% of consumers worldwide make buying decisions based on the purpose and ethics of the label. Diversity and inclusion have become buzzwords to live by. Inclusive beauty is edging out conventional beauty standards.
Johnson & Johnson has put a stop to manufacturing fairness skincare products. The company’s brands Neutrogena and Clean Clear used to hawk a “fairness” range of moisturizers and face washes in India which claimed to reduce dark spots and make one’s skin brighter. Johnson & Johnson has vowed to promote “healthy and beautiful skin” in its advertising and products. Meanwhile, Hindustan Unilever rebranded the cream Fair & Lovely – the epitome of colourism in India – as Glow & Lovely. It doesn’t wipe out decades of regressive advertising but it’s a start.
In response to people’s interest in the ethics and values of the brands they swear by, corporate monitoring platforms are showing up online. DidTheyHelp.com is one such platform rolled out in 2020. It keeps a record of the “good and bad deeds” of companies and celebrities, and scores them accordingly. You can check out how well global conglomerates responded to COVID-19, for instance.
Ethical scoreboards will make corporate social responsibility (CSR) all the more relevant in future. Companies which place purpose at the core, which run social initiatives for nation building, which commit to gender equality and improve the lives of the communities they work in, will naturally rank higher on ethical scoreboards, and be the ones with a loyal customer base. Upholding the values they stand for in their advertising will be as crucial as running a profit-making enterprise; in fact, the two will be interlinked more and more as consumer awareness increases in this hyper-connected world. Companies who ignore CSR in this value-driven atmosphere will have to pay a heavy price.