Perceptions of corporate CSR performance see slight improvement

Perceptions of how well the corporate world as a whole is living up to public expectations around its social and environmental responsibility have improved in the latest wave of GlobeScan tracking, for the first time in ten years.

At the start of the last decade, in the wake of Enron and a number of other major corporate scandals, GlobeScan recorded a sharp decline in the degree to which people around the world saw a range of industries as living up to these responsibilities. At the same time, public expectations of companies across a range of different social and environmental responsibilities rose, creating a large gap between perceived corporate performance and public expectations around CSR. Despite an ever-increasing focus on environmental and social goals among corporations in the decade since, this gap had persisted – and indeed, continued to widen.

However, this year’s slight increase in perceived corporate CSR performance suggests that the responsible business message may, perhaps, be starting to get through – although in some key countries such as the USA, no improvement is apparent. A continued focus by corporations on relevant and coherent themes in their CSR messaging, a judicious use of corporate brands to unify initiatives, an understanding of how to use new online communication channels, and appropriate partnerships with NGOs and government will all be required if this improvement is to continue.

 

Finding from the GlobeScan Radar, Wave 1, 2011

For more information on this finding, please contact Sam Mountford (Read Bio)

Brazilians looking with fresh eyes at the world of business

During the last few troubled years, the Brazilian economy has been one of the global economy’s major success stories. Against the expectations of many, the election of former left-winger Luis Inácio Lula da Silva as president in 2002 and the emergence of the other resource-hungry BRIC nations heralded a period of rapid economic growth for Brazil, boom times for Brazilian multinationals like mining company Vale, and the emergence of a dynamic domestic market, helped by enlightened social policies and initiatives designed to boost consumption.

At the same time, public opinion on economic matters has undergone a dramatic transformation. As recently as 2005, GlobeScan’s Trust index for the corporate world—the propensity of Brazilians to say they trust global companies to act in the best interest of society—was heavily negative (-30). But by 2010 the fruits of economic success were apparent to everyone, and trust in global companies had grown out of all recognition to stand at +43. Compare this to China and the USA, where trust in global companies is on the decline.

With new prosperity has come new faith in the ability of the free market model to deliver prosperity for Brazilians themselves. Brazil—along with China—has now overtaken the USA in its enthusiasm for free market capitalism as the best available economic system. When it comes to global economic leadership, this shift more than anything is surely the sign of the changing of the guard in the global economy.

 

Finding from the GlobeScan Radar, Wave 2, 2010

For more information on this finding, please contact Sam Mountford (Read Bio)

Public hostility to foreign corporate takeovers fading?

More than a year after Kraft Foods’ takeover of UK confectionery company Cadbury, it still appears that the American food giant is having trouble digesting its new acquisition.

After an exodus of Cadbury executives following the merger, Kraft was criticised earlier this year for attempting to persuade Cadbury workers to leave its deficit-hit final salary pension scheme, and with the recent announcement of the demerger of Kraft’s US grocery and snack businesses, Cadbury now faces the prospect of a third major change in its ownership structure in less than five years. These developments will have done little to allay the worries of those who feared that Cadbury would find it hard to preserve its own culture as a small part of a large global group.

But despite this latest example of the problems that often beset foreign takeovers of ‘national champion’ companies, GlobeScan’s data suggest that public sentiment is gradually coming to terms with them. Across our tracking countries, those who disagree that government should prevent foreign companies from buying important national ones has increased from 28% in 2006 to 36% in 2010, the year of the Cadbury takeover.

In straitened economic times, it may be that the public’s head is starting to win over its heart on this issue, and that people are coming to attach more value to the potential for expansion and increased profitability that foreign ownership can bring than an emotional attachment to a familiar national brand. But caution is needed. Protectionists are still firmly in the majority, and while opposition to foreign takeovers decreased in the USA over this period, it increased sharply in China, and also began to climb back up in the UK in 2010–likely in response to the Kraft/Cadbury episode. Companies eyeing potential foreign acquisitions would be well advised to continue to tread carefully.

 

Finding from the GlobeScan Radar, Wave 2, 2010

For more information on this finding, please contact Sam Mountford (Read Bio)

Walmart’s reputation for responsibility being challenged again?

The dramatic shift in perceptions of Walmart’s corporate responsibility performance in the last few years is an important case study in how a company’s reputation can be enhanced. But our latest tracking suggests that its battle may not yet have been completely won.

By 2007, the Bentonville-based retail giant had become a byword for corporate irresponsibility. Nearly a quarter of the American public named it spontaneously as an irresponsible company as criticism mounted of its use of non-unionised labour, the way it sourced its products and the perceived negative effect of its dominance on other retailers.

However, with the launch of its sustainable products index, its goal of being supplied 100% by renewable energy and its commitment to eliminate 20 billion tons of carbon from its global supply chain, it started to challenge these assumptions.

In 2010, the number of American consumers naming Walmart as a responsible company outstripped those naming it as irresponsible for the first time since 2004, and it also emerged as the most frequently named sustainability leader in GlobeScan and SustainAbility’s regular tracking of sustainability experts’ views.

But this year, Unilever has overtaken Walmart as the pre-eminent corporate sustainability leader among The Sustainability Survey panel of experts, and negative views of the company have once more overtaken positive ones among the US public, possibly in light of a prominent scandal involving the presence of cadmium in Chinese-made children’s bracelets and a race incident in a store in New Jersey. Incidents like this may be inevitable given the company’s size – but they are a reminder that maintaining a sustainable reputation is at least as challenging as building one.

 

Finding from the GlobeScan Radar, Wave 1, 2011 

For more information on this finding, please contact Sam Mountford (Read Bio)

Social Media Users “More Active” As Ethical Consumers: Global Poll

20 July 2011 – Regular users of Facebook, Twitter and other online social media expect higher levels of corporate responsibility from companies, and are more likely to act on their values as ethical consumers, according to a new GlobeScan 28-nation poll released today. The poll of 28,889 people reveals that when compared to non-users of social media, regular users hold companies to a higher ethical standard, particularly when it comes to their environmental responsibility, and are also more likely to act … “Social Media Users “More Active” As Ethical Consumers: Global Poll”

Sharp fall in perceived responsibility of IT sector in China

Labour standards scandals such as those at Apple supplier Foxconn are having an impact on Chinese consumers’ perceptions of the CSR performance of technology companies, the latest GlobeScan tracking suggests.

At the start of the last decade, the technology sector was positively rated for its CSR by Chinese consumers, with a net score of +54, indicating that most tended to view the industry as “one of the best” in fulfilling its responsibilities to society.

This year, however, there has been a further sharp fall in Chinese ratings of the IT sector’s responsibility, and it now lies at +23.

This rating remains substantially better than many other sectors, particularly those like the oil industry with major environmental impacts to contend with, but also of the food and finance sectors.

But this decline – mirrored in other major economies – shows that leading technology companies cannot afford to be complacent as they develop their operations in China and need to show that their reputation for innovations does not become tarnished by sweat-shop workplace ethics.

 

Finding from the GlobeScan Radar, Wave 2, 2011

For more information on this finding, please contact Sam Mountford (Read Bio)

As Australia plans carbon tax, views remain polarized around the potential economic harm of measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions

We regularly track the global public’s view of whether attempts to cut emissions of climate changing gases risk significantly damaging the economy. In most countries surveyed, opinion is polarized on this issue —suggesting that finding politically viable ways to reduce emissions will remain a daunting challenge.

In Australia, plans to impose a tax on carbon emissions for the worst polluters have met with plenty of opposition; currently only the EU and New Zealand have managed to introduce a national tax on carbon. In Europe, slight majorities tend to disagree that action on climate change will damage economies; majorities also held this view in Australia, Canada, China, and Japan when polling was carried out last year.

However, people in several countries, including the USA, the UK, Brazil, Japan, and Canada, were becoming less likely to think that greenhouse gas emission cuts would damage the economy, suggesting the developed-world public may be becoming more receptive to mitigating initiatives as the immediate economic crisis has receded. American views have shifted dramatically over the course of the recession, with a spike in 2009 in the proportion worried about the effect on the economy.

A number of emerging economies, including India, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Kenya, have seen the reverse trend with a recent sharp increase in concern about the potential economic harm of measures to address climate change. This suggests that the issue will remain politically potent as the rapid growth in many of these economies continues.

 

Finding from the GlobeScan Radar, Wave 2, 2010 

For more information on this finding, please contact Sam Mountford (Read Bio)

Clothing companies and consumer expectations – transparency tops the list

GlobeScan has been tracking consumer expectations towards business in society for a number of years. We routinely find that the global public have the highest expectations of companies around their core operational responsibilities – the safety of their products and services, how they treat the environment, and how they treat their workforce and supply chain. We have also noted a major increase in consumer expectations around transparency in recent years.

Looking at the various stages of the product lifecycle for clothing manufacturers, we find that expectations in the UK and USA are fully in line with this global picture. Consumer expectations are highest around a company‘s level of transparency with its customers about the social and environmental impact of its products, which is regarded as ‘very important‘ by over half of both UK and US consumers. In both countries, the second most important consideration is about a company’s social and environmental responsibility itself.

Expectations around the way it sources its fabrics, and its responsibilities to educate the public around caring for and disposing for their clothes are currently less well developed.

But this underlines the key task for companies in communicating with consumers – to meet consumers’ demand for reliable information. People want reliable, verifiable information presented in an accessible way, to allow them to make informed choices.

 

Finding from the GlobeScan Radar, Wave 1, 2011 

For more information on this finding, please contact Sam Mountford (Read Bio)

North Americans and Australians rank highest as ethical consumers

Canadian, American, and Australian consumers are among the most active and empowered ethical consumers in the world, while Indian consumers rank at the bottom, according to the 2011 GlobeScan Ethical Consumerism Funnel.

This is the result of analysis of results to a range of questions asked in our annual survey of consumer attitudes towards business in society. Filtering consumers to identify only those who are both highly attentive to responsible business and active as ethical consumers, we can see that as many as three-in-ten Canadians, and more than one-quarter of Americans and Australians, profess high expectations on companies to act responsibly in the areas of product safety, environmental integrity, and employee treatment, while claiming to be aware of what companies do to be responsible, and in addition also say they reward and punish companies for being socially responsible or irresponsible in their purchasing choices. However, the proportion of aware and active ethical consumers in the USA has decreased over the past two years, possibly as a result of persistent economic concerns.

Emerging major markets Brazil, China, and India rank low on GlobeScan’s ethical consumerist index, as consumers there expect less of companies and say they are less aware of companies’ CSR activities, while they are also less likely to make their purchasing choices based on perception of companies’ acting responsibly or irresponsibly. This suggests that while consumers are becoming more aware in these nations, the responsible business agenda has yet to break through to the mainstream consumer, and that companies will need to frame their CSR messaging within the context of economic growth and job creation in these countries.

 

Finding from the GlobeScan Radar, Wave 1, 2011 

For more information on this finding, please contact Sam Mountford (Read Bio)

Indonesia and India Among World’s Most Entrepreneur-Friendly Nations

Much of GlobeScan’s recent global public opinion tracking points to the surge of economic confidence and optimism in Asia, even in the wake of global recession. Last year’s Consumer Sentiment Index revealed that Asian consumers were among the most upbeat, and results from our most recent 24-nation survey for BBC World Service on entrepreneurship ranks several Asian countries among the world’s most entrepreneur-friendly.

We asked people to say how hard they felt it was for people like them to start a business in their country, whether their country values creativity and innovation, whether it values entrepreneurs and whether people with good ideas can usually put them into practice. Indonesia and India emerged as among the top five countries in terms of their climate for entrepreneurs, joined by the USA, Canada and Australia. Colombia, Egypt, Turkey, Italy and Russia were the least entrepreneur-friendly. The biggest Asian giant of all, China, ranked alongside the USA as the country where innovation and creativity was felt to be most valued.

But many barriers to entrepreneurship remain—in 23 out of 24 countries, majorities said that they felt it was hard for people like them to start a business. It seems likely that if the feeble global economic recovery is to be maintained, some of those barriers will need to be removed.

 

Finding from the GlobeScan Radar, Wave 2, 2010

For more information on this finding, please contact Sam Mountford (Read Bio)