header There are a few things in this world more likely open the flood-gates of “anti-globalisation” banter than the suggestion that Brands have a positive social impact. Everything from the “they are making my kids fat” to “they are exploiting poor labourers in developing nations” and “the damage done to the environment by these brands are almost irreparable”. There is enough and more one-liners which are available, giving a strong negative disposition towards any global brand with enough market and financial clout to be even considered “global”. Further, the voice also demands for brands to be more human and give back to the society they function in. The least a corporate body can do after exploiting the poor and creating health and lifestyle hazards. Enter Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). A concept created as a means through which business houses are able to contribute to the wellbeing of society at large. Either by providing support to NGOs or through any initiative which the corporate might take, as a means to give back, create a better environment internally and externally. To observers of a sceptical disposition, CSR represents the latest gimmicky management fad. There is no need to participate in many protests staged by activists in order to be troubled by many aspects of contemporary business behaviour. Companies both large and small in many ways deserve the strongest condemnation. There are too many in the community who don’t think twice before damaging the environment, spoiling local communities and cultures, exploiting workers and worst of all misleading the consumers all in the venture of making a quick buck. However, the way I see it the role of CSR is to reduce this negative impact of business, by providing specific management tools to minimise risks arising from their social and environmental performance. However, the pressure of CSR is felt most by companies that have a brand reputation to build and protect (read: large and global brands), given that they have the greatest incentive to ensure their activities have as much a positive impact as possible on all aspects mentioned before. Building and maintaining a brand reputation is not just about the consistency in the visual identity, or the large spends on impact advertising; it is also about being seen as a good place to work, open and trustworthy business practices and hence a good business partner and the ability to adapt and thrive in any community,  among many others. The image the brand builds for its self as an aware and responsible corporate citizen are the building blocks of any successful brand and the premise of CSR. Take Nike for example. From the “Sweatshops” scandal in the 90s, Nike has today become a forerunner in tackling the highly sensitive and complex problem of poor working conditions and human rights issue in the developing world (I understand they have had constant dogging of allegations of child labour and working conditions even post the 90s, but that is a debate by its-self and not my primary point). Furthermore, and I will probably be called insensitive for this, but the “low-wage” tantrum created against Nike then, should have been kept against the backdrop of what wage would they be paid if Nike wasn’t there in the first place, anyway I digress. This is not to say that Nike has become the hero that all child labourers were looking for, and has eradicated the problem (not that Nike or any other major global brand were responsible for the larger problem in the first place), but by first being in the thick of things and then through its efforts and backing has given the issue a platform and voice which without Nike would have not got the due share of voice it has got and deserved. It is a fairly simple logic, no logo, no brand, no knowledge of the grave issues being faced by the developing nations. Global brands serve as the platform for these issues to be spread across a larger audience, and hence forcing the concerned people to take corrective and positive actions, thanks to the pressure and impact of global forces; be it government, activist groups, NGOs or businesses. Brands hence become a transmission mechanism through which we can most clearly understand the consequences of business behaviour and work to eliminate the bad in favour of the good. It is important to note that the process of CSR does not restrain its purview to just the brand in question, but also the multitude of business partners which the brand associates with. For example, It would be unfair to assume that Benetton owned the workshop which collapsed in Bangladesh a few weeks back, but if their involvement is proven, the blame should definitely be shared by the brand. Since, they are fully responsible for associating with a company which functioned and made their workers function under hazardous conditions. No one doubts that there is a long way to go before all brands can assure ethical and non-damaging business practices with a wholly positive social and environmental impact, but equally there shouldn’t be a constant doubt on the positive role brands can play in the development of the concept and as proponents of positive change within this space.


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