Posts Tagged ‘social responsibility’

Building a socially valuable chain of activities at Ben and Jerry’s

November 28, 2009

Wednesday’s presentation from the Ben & Jerry’s founders was certainly a popular event (I guess free icecream trumps the pain for many of us standing for an hour+). They told some fantastic tales of their almost accidental rise to fame and fortune.

The main message of their talk was how a business can be run in a socially responsible fashion. They offered some intriguing examples of (as they put it) “improving the quality of life in our community” without necessarily contradicting the usual modus operandi of business (i.e. pursuing customers with an attractive product).

It was great to see how they had leveraged their existing value chain and capabilities to deliver genuine social benefits.

At the supplier end they discussed their involvement with Greyston Bakery in Yonkers, New York. This bakery offers training and employment opportunities for socially-disadvantaged folks. Rather than just throwing these guys some money to keep up their good work, Ben & Jerry’s designed an ice-cream (Chocolate Fudge Brownie) using the Bakery’s output. They said this now sends around $4m worth of business the bakery’s way each year. See more on this here (including a cool video).

At the distribution end the firm has awarded a number of their retail franchises free to not-for-profits in various locations. Again, these NGOs usually offer training and employment opportunities for at-risk youth. These Partnershops look and feel like the for-profit stores, and the charities presumably seek to make surpluses in just the same fashion, equipped with the processes and expertise transferred to all franchisees.

Both of these approaches embrace the power of the firm’s core competitive advantages (designing, marketing and delivering fancy ice-cream) so as to achieve a financially and socially profitable result. It’s a great model for others to follow and adapt.

Oh, and the free Chunky Monkey Ice-cream tasted great. See a brief snippet from Jerry here.


Do jeans make you blue?

October 13, 2008

The manufacturing processes behind common consumer products are not often discussed in the media. Clothing is one exception, as there are sporadic debates and exposés about the likely sweatshop roots of popular brands. This story from the Saturday Age looks at the world of jeans manufacturing. It claims to expose a variety of production processes which may be harmful to the folks making the jeans (and the components thereof) and to the environment where the manufacturing occurs (often developing countries).

Multinationals have to be very careful about the perceptions of the impact of their products, in terms of both workers’ rights/experiences, and also the environment. This article suggests that the jeans being sold in Australian vary considerably in terms of the damage they have done before we buy them.

It is far from a simple cheap labour/low cost strategy story either, as the firms offering these products are often engaged in these practices so as to achieve differentiation in the highly competitive fashion market. You might even argue that they are highly innovative and adventurous firms. Also, the firms whose brands appear on the jeans are typically not directly involved in the production process themselves. They might, therefore, claim little/no awareness of, or responsibilty for, any damage done.

This not an issue that will go away. It remains to be seen whether consumer behaviour is significantly altered by such revelations, and whether firms can create any genuine advantage from taking a more socially responsible position by altering manufacturing practices.