May 21, 2018

The Truth about Taking a “Brand Stand” as part of CSR


This blog has been updated from the original on 2/10/22

We’ve all heard that with great power comes great responsibility. And for this reason, brands in the past have been cautious about dabbling in social and political issues, worried that it might hurt their brand. They haven’t all considered it as part of their corporate social responsibility, or CSR.

Today, however, we are seeing more and more organizations saying, ‘enough is enough’ and using their influence to make a stand on movements they’re passionate about. Let’s take a look at how these companies have aligned with relevant causes, proving that social advocacy can be cool. (You just have to be authentic, prepared, and committed, because you’re likely to face criticism and backlash. More on that, in a previous blog here.)

Ready to jump in? Here are some examples of companies taking their corporate responsibility initiatives to heart.


Chobani’s CSR Efforts Embrace Refugees

Chobani, the #1-selling Greek-style yogurt brand in America, not only announced in 2016 that it would be giving its employees 10% of the company’s shares but also has made a point to hire refugees for their U.S. plants.

Chobani founder Hamdi Ulukaya is an immigrant himself. He tells CBS’s 60 Minutes, “The minute they get a job, that’s the minute they stop being a refugee.” Ulukaya describes his employees who have 19 different nationalities as the most loyal, hard-working people. To help them adjust to their new jobs, he’s even brought in 16 different translators.


“They got here legally. They’ve gone through a most dangerous journey. They lost their family members. They lost everything they have. And here they are. They are either going to be a part of society or they are going to lose it again,” Ulukaya tells Steve Kroft.

Airbnb: Equality is a Corporate Social Responsibility  



There was little doubt who Airbnb was taking a stand against when their politically-charged TV commercial aired during Super Bowl LI. On the heels of the immigration ban, the popular home-sharing site’s ad brazenly declared, “we believe no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love or who you worship, we all belong. The world is more beautiful the more you accept.”

A few days after the #WeAccept commercial aired, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky released a statement declaring that beyond pledging $4 million to the International Rescue Committee to support the “globally displaced,” it would be the company’s goal to provide short-term housing to 100,000 people in need over the next five years.

REI Blacks Out Black Friday

2017 marked REI’s third year in a row to take a stand against Black Friday’s commercialism. The days surrounding Black Friday used to be REI’s biggest and most critical sales days. However, in 2015, REI halted all processing of orders on their website, closed all 154 of their stores, and gave all their employees a paid day off.

REI CEO Jerry Stritzke, tells Business Insider, “I was looking at the chaos of Black Friday and how more and more stores were opening on Thanksgiving and it just didn’t feel right.”

Abstaining from retail tradition is a huge risk; however, instead of giving in, REI decided the loss of sales was worth what they earned in return – the gratitude and respect of their near 12,000 employees and their families.

Delta Air Lines Says No More to NRA


Since 1966, the U.S. has seen 150 mass shootings. However, it wouldn’t be until 2018’s school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida that the debate on gun control would spark enough outrage to bring hundreds of thousands out in the street to demand the end to gun violence.

There’s now a running list of brands who have cut ties with the National Rifle Association (NRA), with Delta Airlines being one of the first and YETI one of the latest. In the wake of the heartbreaking Parkland, Fla. mass shooting, Delta announced in a statement that it was having their information removed from the NRA website and “ending its contract for discounted rates through our group travel program.”

On breaking ties with the group that boasts 5 million members, Delta’s CEO Ed Bastian says, “Our decision was not made for economic gain and our values are not for sale. We are in the process of a review to end group discounts for any group of a politically divisive nature.”

L’Oréal Commits to Climate Change

L’Oréal is tackling two issues with its Women4Climate campaign – gender equality and climate protection.

Women4Climate is L’Oréal’s global initiative to empower women leaders to fight for climate change. Alexandra Palt, L’Oréal’s Chief Sustainability Officer, says, “At L’Oréal we consider it strategic to engage with C40 women mayors to empower the next generation of women leaders in fighting climate change. Women will play a critical role in tackling climate change. It is our responsibility to empower and support them.”

L’Oréal’s commitment to sustainability involves significantly reducing its CO2 emissions; the company has since reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 67%. They’ve also set up a mentorship program for 500 women working to alleviate the effects of climate change in 10 cities. To date, 15 women mayors represented in the C40 Cities network have already pledged their support to L’Oréal to empower the next generation of women to fight climate change.


Ben & Jerry’s Tells Us Why Black Lives Matter

Ben & Jerry’s is no stranger to boldly confronting social and political issues as not only part of their CSR, but as part of their culture. They support the LGBT and are championing the fight for cleaner energy sources with their climate change campaigns.

More recently, Ben & Jerry’s has made it clear that they stand behind the Black Lives Matters movement, stating “systemic and institutionalized racism are the defining civil rights and social justice issues of our time.”

On their website is a full-page statement clarifying their stance: “We want to be clear: we believe that saying Black lives matter is not to say that the lives of those who serve in the law enforcement community don’t. We respect and value the commitment to our communities that those in law enforcement make, and we respect the value of every one of their lives.”

From politically-charged ads to cutting ties with long-standing partnerships to simply abstaining from tradition – these brands have decided to use their influential brand voices to spark change and spread awareness of social and political issues. While some have received backlash, criticism, and have even hurt their bottom line, they remain firm in their commitment to stand by what they believe in.

In this new age, what does Corporate Social Responsibility mean?

The term “Corporate Responsibility” itself is going through an evolution of sorts, and what it means to different companies.

“We’re all going to talk about Corporate Social Responsibility from a different lens,” says Grant Prentice, Director of Strategic Insights at FoodMinds. “My lens is through global food values, and CSR for us can be used interchangeably with mission and purpose, and what the company is doing to make a difference.”

Astellas Pharma is another company walking the walk of its preferred term of corporate citizenship, and it has strong employee support. Astellas offers its employees five paid days to volunteer in their communities, has established a foundation to deliver wide-ranging charitable grants, and commits to disaster relief.

volunteer kneels by box for disaster relief
Hayley Jurnak, senior professional representative II, PCP Sales, Astellas Pharma US, supporting American Red Cross Relief efforts in Houston, TX. Courtesy: Astellas.

Executive Director of Communications and Corporate Citizenship, Moyra Knight, shared her perspective at a recent CSR event for the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC). She says it’s something more and more consumers not only respect, but have come to expect.

“If a company does not provide some of these basics of corporate citizenship, they will be out of business in the not-too-distant future. To not include it in the day to day is short-sighted.”

Nancy Himmelfarb of NJH Sustainability Consulting believes that CSR is all about corporate responsibility. She says you must define what responsibility uniquely means to your particular business, focusing on what matters most and sharing your message with authenticity and credibility.

“You’re looking to create a dialog with your many stakeholders. A conversation. Everyone wants to attract millennials, and millennials are more likely than others to share stories about CSR efforts among their networks.”

Further, Himmelfarb says CSR efforts can even drive sales.

“If you’re entering the market, CSR becomes your lever to build trust and competitive advantage. If you’re selling a new cookie, no matter how good your recipe is, it’s really hard to stand out based on price, taste, etc. Showing the marketplace that your company is responsible, through relevant and compelling CSR efforts, is a way to capture market share, when you don’t have a lot of other things to compete with.”

Alan Reed, Executive Director of the Chicagoland Food and Beverage Network, agrees.

“What we’re seeing is that the world has completely changed. And (CSR) is core to those companies who are growing and thriving and connecting to consumers on an ongoing basis. What used to be a corporate responsibility document has really become the key to driving relevant brands.”

CSR has rapidly transformed from words on a report (that few people read) to concrete action in our communities. The world is now watching. How will you respond?

Are you proud of your brand’s CSR initiatives? Share them with us and we could include them in a future blog.