Harnessing the Power of Businesses to Advocate for Change
Consumers’ expectations towards companies to act socially responsibly and take a stance on social issues have grown. A recent study showed that almost two thirds of consumers make purchasing decisions based on a company’s stand on social issues.[i] It also showed that 60 percent of consumers want to see companies’ values and stances more transparently, and 53 percent believe that companies can do more than governments to solve social issues. Through corporate advocacy, companies can show they are ready to act on issues that are important for them.
Improving social responsibility requires broad, holistic engagements that reach beyond company walls to influence stakeholders and decision-makers, fostering cross-sector partnerships to drive change. With their size and reach, multinational companies are in a position to influence their peers, investors and political leaders to step up the action for sustainable development. By cooperating with each other, they can contribute to wider systemic changes, for instance in supply chain transparency, capital markets or consumption patterns. Corporate advocacy is an instrument with which companies can promote an environment that enables scaling sustainable solutions and encourages creating new ones.
For instance, the formation of the Action, Collaboration, Transformation (ACT) coalition in 2016 represents a significant milestone on the journey to fair wages. ACT comprises 20 global brands, including Business Call to Action (BCtA) members H&M and IndustriAll Global Union. It is the first global framework on living wages in the garment sector bringing together all relevant stakeholders and demonstrating the power of corporate advocacy. Its mission is to transform the garment, textile, and footwear industry, and achieve living wages for workers through collective bargaining at the industry level. While local employers and trade unions should negotiate wage levels and working conditions with each other, brands can contribute with a commitment to purchase only from responsible suppliers. ACT enables industry-wide actions, which are necessary for large scale change. By collaborating, brands can take advantage of their collective leverage, pressure suppliers to change their practices, and support countries to take transformative actions.
For BCtA member Supracafé, advocating to improve pay and working conditions for coffee growers in Colombia is a top priority. At the core of their advocacy approach is gaining deeper understanding of the needs of the farmers they work with. “We consider ourselves fortunate to work with the women at their coffee grower association. We introduce ourselves as ambassadors of their coffee at the events in which we participate in, and constantly recognize the people behind each cup of coffee. It is very important to us that our farmers are informed, and that they participate actively in our projects through which we constantly improve and adapt, to ensure we (have a positive impact) on their lives,” says Samuel F. Ricardo Ruiz, Supracafé’s Chief Sustainability Officer.
Empowering coffee farmers through corporate advocacy has brought benefits for Supracafé in terms of increased productivity and quality of the product, enhanced credibility among clients and improved ability to manage risks.
Interesting examples of corporate advocacy have also been seen in the sphere of climate politics. Businesses advocated around the process leading to the Paris Agreement, demanding strong commitments from governments. During later climate meetings (COPs), companies have urged governments to effectively implement their national climate action plans, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), and put forward policies which would enable businesses to make commitments in line with these plans. In 2017, when the United States announced they would withdraw from the Paris Agreement, major companies appealed to president Trump to stay in the agreement. Even though the US withdrew, many companies announced their support to the agreement.
A coalition called We Mean Business has brought together 863 companies making climate commitments across sectors and geographical regions globally. It is a platform that brings together influential businesses and investors to increase their impact in driving policy change towards a transition to a zero-carbon economy. It mobilizes businesses to set ambitious and impactful targets, influences governments to create ambitious and enabling policies, and further accelerates change through partnerships with public sector and civil society.
Corporate advocacy is also performed through public-private partnerships, of which the Global Shea Alliance (GSA) is a good example. It is a non-profit industry association advocating for policies that promote a sustainable shea industry in Africa and around the world. GSA has 525 members from 35 countries including women’s groups, suppliers, brands and retailers, non-profits, national producer associations and affiliate members. Together they promote adoption of fair business practices, the removal of trade barriers for shea products globally, and improved quality of shea products by providing training on best practices. BCtA member L’OCCITANE benefits from the GSA in three different ways. Firstly, they support with linkages and networks, for instance its RESIST programme is funded by USAID and was initiated by GSA. Secondly, they provide technical expertise and help L’OCCITANE find new markets. Lastly, they are a source of documentation, providing important information about pricing.
Historically, corporate advocacy has been seen as radically different from civil society advocacy, associated more with powerful lobbying of politicians behind closed doors than mobilizing ordinary people. More and more companies, however, have acknowledged the opportunities that grassroots advocacy brings in terms of both doing good in the world and supporting their business and have started encouraging their customers to advocate for causes they care about.
To learn more about corporate advocacy and discover useful tactics on how to act on your company social and environmental values, visit the latest BCtA tool on Inclusive Business Management Practices.
[i] Edelman Earned Brand (2018), Brands Take a Stand. Available at https://www.edelman.com/sites/g/files/aatuss191/files/2018-10/2018_Edelman_Earned_Brand_Global_Report.pdf The study was conducted in Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S.
By Nazila Vali, former Deputy Team Lead at the Business Call to Action