Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Looking inwards

With a growing concern among corporations to establish a purpose and clearly discernible values for their organisations, are our favourite brands becoming social enterprises? In short, no — definitely, no. 

For example, Nike may take a strong stance in its compelling, impressive and progressive marketing campaigns that spotlight all manner of social justice issues, but this alignment with a cause is simply aimed at making their company more profitable. That’s not a particularly cynical take: if an organisation that was established to make money can do so successfully while also lending support to an important cause, everyone wins. While Nike’s alignment with #BlackLivesMatter drew wide acclaim for the somewhat risky and divisive move (which ultimately paid off), sports and culture writer Hemal Jhaveri drew parallels between this move and the way in which “the beauty industry co-opted female empowerment and body positivity to sell soap and eyeliner”. Pride Month and its parades have become another particularly vexing time for those who see corporate social activism as empty: while the number of rainbow-coloured products surges, donations to LGBTQIA+ organisations do not match up. Brands, it seems, are not always putting their money where their marketing is. 

Assuming genuinely good intentions, what does it take for a company to participate in social entrepreneurship and make a measurable difference? Corporate social entrepreneurship (CSR) aims to create new opportunities that generate both social value and financial returns, often moving to more entrepreneurial-style processes and styles of planning. For Adobe, this has meant tackling issues surrounding sustainability, particularly renewable energy use. They’ve made impressive moves towards more sustainable business practices, which makes good financial sense when considering that investing in clean tech that uses less energy does turn out to be more cost-effective in the long run. When it comes to their moves to support local renewable energy legislation, the company states plainly on their blog that, “Policy advocacy isn’t just a moral imperative — it’s a business one. Consumers expect businesses to advocate for sound renewable energy and climate policies”. While Adobe encourages its customers to join them in reconsidering their own energy use, the imperative is simple: support us, buy our products, because we’re already doing the work and will continue to do so. 

For every shopper who’s deeply concerned that their shampoo doesn’t contain palm oil, that their alternative milk source doesn’t require an excessive amount of water to grow and that their consumer behaviour has a positive impact, there’s another whose choices are based solely on price, or convenience. Shoppers select the product, shop or brand that aligns with their own values, and for many, a strongly-held belief is that items should never cost as much as those that come imbued with a feel-good message. Whether brands are engaging in social entrepreneurship, social activism or just good old-fashioned CSR, it’s difficult for us to know their true intentions. Ultimately, our consumer behaviour comes down to supporting the brand that — to the best of our knowledge — brings our own conscience comfort. 

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

The South African Bone Marrow Registry celebrates 30 years of...

‘It’s not drilling into bones!’: Misconceptions keep donors away, says SABMR, but a match outside of a patient’s family is a needle in a haystack

R500-million Covid-19 Gauteng hospital contract was irregularly awarded — SIU

The bank accounts of Pro Service Consulting and Thenga Holdings have been frozen

More top stories

Nersa approves Karpowership generation licences

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse has questioned why Nersa has not immediately provided its reasons for issuing the controversial generation licences

With its industrial base decimated, SA’s economy needs real change...

Speaking at a book launch on Tuesday, the finance minister said a focus on manufacturing is critical to stem the country’s deepening unemployment crisis

Defence team cagey about Zuma’s health after state advised he...

The former president was absent from court, but his counsel argued that health matters be left aside, so as to hear his case for the removal of Billy Downer

The South African Bone Marrow Registry celebrates 30 years of...

‘It’s not drilling into bones!’: Misconceptions keep donors away, says SABMR, but a match outside of a patient’s family is a needle in a haystack
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×