In a recent blog I examined the approach of Stop Funding Hate, a campaign calling for companies to withdraw their advertising from newspapers – the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and The Sun – that often carry incendiary, divisive anti-migrant headlines.
It is a corporate responsibility approach to change according to Krznaric (2007) seeking to alter the behaviour of organisations through threatening reputation “with name and shame campaigns” (Krznaric, 2007: 59).
The approach is common in campaigns against companies. Oxfam has used it in Behind the Brands that targets the world’s biggest food companies, scoring each, identifying the laggards and calling on consumers to put pressure on these companies to do more.
Greenpeace has also used this method very effectively. Its Detox Catwalk campaign ranks 19 companies on actions to eliminate toxic chemicals from textiles and fashion. The NGO has been successful in encouraging a number of companies to commit to reducing hazardous chemicals in the supply chain.
These types of campaigns work with the competitiveness of companies, especially in the case of Behind the Brands when they are market rivals. The rankings present what is expected from companies on a number of environmental and social criteria, the anticipation is that these practices will begin to spread through the sector (den Hond & de Bakker, 2007). The activists are not only interested in social change within individual companies but are striving for ‘field-level’ change (den Hond & de Bakker, 2007). Field-level change is achieved through convincing individual organisations, one by one, to change their behaviour, either due to reputation risk or competitive pressure. This could also be loosely described as a’diffusion’ tactical theory of change, whereby innovation (which can also be a practice) is communicated and over time spreads from early adapters to early majority, late majority and laggards, eventually leading to increased acceptance of the practice in the mainstream (Stachowiak, 2013).
Most of these campaigns focus on, targeting the laggards but also supporting the companies that are trying to lead and influence others to raise their game. The Behind the Brands campaign praises the companies that are doing most. Rose (2010) in his work on motivational values examines the way behaviour spreads from ‘Innovators’ to ‘Early Adopters’ through emulation. The Sleeping Giants campaign in the US, from which Stop Funding Hate has drawn its tactics, is trying to stop the flow of ad dollars to racist websites. The campaign highlights the innovators and early adopters that have taken action, giving them a reputation boost and encouraging consumers to support those businesses, and ideally encouraging additional companies to match this action.
Another campaign aimed at inciting divisions in the business community (Krznaric 2007) was the Share Action campaign on corporate lobbying (with a parallel campaign being run by the Union of Concerned Scientists in the US). Its objective to get companies to end membership of regressive climate lobbying groups, that is business and trade associations that are acting to block climate policy or misrepresent climate science. Similar to Stop Funding Hate, the campaign emphasises the reputation risk to companies if they are a member of a trade association whose actions on climate are inconsistent with the company’s own progressive approach to climate action (Share Action, 2015). Such ‘proactiveness’ provides a competitive advantage to competitors who already have an interest (due to an advanced approach to corporate sustainability, such as Unilever) in retaining a progressive reputation (den Hond & de Bakker, 2007).
Having worked with business on corporate sustainability strategies, I know how understanding leading-practice and what peers are doing drives much of what they do. Corporations have moved far, and relatively fast, over the last couple of decades, but much of this activity sits with leaders and early adopters, so I hope to see NGOs keep this kind of pressure to ensure the whole field continues to move in the right direction.
den Hond, F. & de Bakker, F.G.A., 2007. Ideologically Motivated Activism: How Activist Groups Influence Corporate Social Change Activities. Academy of Management Review, 32(3), pp.901–924. Available at: http://10.0.21.89/AMR.2007.25275682.
Krznaric, R., 2007. How Change Happens. Oxfam GB Research Report, p.59.
ShareAction, 2015. Corporate Lobbying and Climate Change. Available at: http://action.shareaction.org/page/-/ShareActionInvestorBriefingCorporateLobbying.pdf
Stachowiak, S., 2013. Pathways for Change : 10 Theories to Inform Advocacy and Policy Change Efforts. The ORS Impact, (October), pp.1–30.