Consumers are becoming increasingly engaged in the ethics and safety records of the companies they support. As social media and other digital platforms allow for enhanced scrutiny of corporate practices, some companies are turning this reputational threat into a communications opportunity. Radical transparency allows engaged consumers to view a complete picture of the products and services they’re being asked to support. For companies that are willing to walk the walk, there are market shares to be gained to be made from talking the talk.
The Benefits of Radical Transparency Throughout the Supply Chain
According to Zenefits “Radical transparency is the belief that all corporate entities should be honest, open, and straightforward. Rather than keeping certain details behind closed doors, radically transparent companies don’t hide anything.”¹
The old adage that ‘bad news travels fast’ certainly applies in the digital age. Young people in particular are aware of corporate ethics and are connecting the dots further and further down the supply chain, meaning that it’s not just your direct operations that will be scrutinized, but those of your suppliers and their suppliers as well.
If companies don’t proactively define their image with regards to environmentalism, human rights, creative integrity, product safety, economics, and the treatment of workers, the internet will be happy to do it for them.
Achieving and Communicating Corporate Social Responsibility
Those hoping to gain market share through an effective radical transparency policy will essentially have to engage in a three step process: do it, track it, tell it. None of these steps are easy, but worthwhile things seldom are.
Doing it means ensuring that you run a relatively ethical operation. There is heavy lifting to be done here, as ensuring that your operation makes good on its obligations can be disruptive, time consuming and expensive.
Tracking it means diving deep and may involve utilizing sophisticated technology such as blockchain, or partnering with international groups such as the CDP Supply Chain Program or the United Nations Global Compact.²
Which leads us to the fun part: telling it! Although consumers are educated and aware, an effective communications campaign must move beyond numerical overload. Statistics should be used as support for a well contextualized story about positive impact and progress, not as the main entree. Simply put: people love a good story, but the story must be true!
American clothing company ‘Patagonia’ offers Footprint Chronicles, an interactive website feature that allows consumers to learn about the company’s raw materials, manufacturing facilities and vendor operations. The fashion industry is particularly susceptible to examination and companies ranging from Nike to H&M owned Arket have responded with online features designed to showcase their manufacturing process.
Swedish retail giant IKEA’s website proudly displays the ethical Code of Conduct they require all suppliers to meet, while UK disruptor bank ‘Monzo’ crowd funded over 20 million pounds, due in no small part to their commitment to radical transparency.³
There are no shortage of ways for companies to communicate their commitment to transparency. From mass marketing campaigns to social media, blogs, podcasts, video series, recruitment material and the aforementioned interactive website features and trackers, the message should be shared far and wide in order to maximize return on the effort to incorporate responsible practices.
Transparency in the Food Production Industry
Recently Rose Agency authored a report on changes in the food production industry as a result of Covid-19 on behalf of Goldbeck Recruiting and third party logistics provider Canadian Alliance.⁴ Negative press stemming from outbreaks in meat processing facilities resulted in consumer concern for both food and worker safety. Alleviating the fears of the public cannot be accomplished through wholesome pictures and catchy slogans alone. Trustworthy and wide ranging information on safety measures and processes are necessary.
The good news is that companies who put in the work to both accomplish and communicate good ethics will be rewarded.
“This represents a bright spot in transparency marketing,” reads the white paper, “companies responsibly managing safety protocols can maximize positive impacts on public sentiment, perhaps swaying purchasing decisions. Emphasizing how the industry has adapted to our new circumstances can lead to greater consumer trust which could have rippling implications for market shares at the retail level.”⁴
The paper goes on to cite an Angus Reid forum where 64% of respondents stated that they were more likely to purchase from companies that kept workers employed, while 74% supported enhanced safety measures.⁴
Challenges and Additional Benefits of Radical Transparency
Engaging in a program of radical transparency is not to be taken lightly. Companies must put up or shut up and changing practices is not easy. Once a company starts disclosing additional information, it’s difficult to stop and the inevitable bumps in the road must be addressed head on. Additional concerns include the potential disclosure of sensitive information such as staff salaries and trade secrets.
The benefits for those who engage earnestly may be worth the effort. Not only will well-crafted communications efforts land squarely with consumers, but will aid attempts to recruit and retain employees, particularly amongst Millennials and Gen-Zers. Furthermore, efforts to shine light on supply chain and internal processes may uncover inefficiencies and present opportunities to better the company operationally.
1 “Modern Companies That Are Winning At Radical Transparency.” Workest, August 31, 2019. https://www.zenefits.com/workest/modern-companies-winning-radical-transparency/
2 “How Technology Provides a Crucial Link in Ethical Supply Chains.” SupplyChainBrain RSS. Accessed October 8, 2020. https://www.supplychainbrain.com/blogs/1-think-tank/post/31987-how-technology-provides-a-crucial-link-in-ethical-supply-chains
3 Mathew, Wesley. “How to Build Trust Using Radical Transparency.” The Drum. The Drum, February 11, 2020. https://www.thedrum.com/opinion/2020/02/10/how-build-trust-using-radical-transparency.
4 “The Future of Our Food: An Industry in Flux.” Goldbeck Recruiting. Accessed October 8, 2020. https://www.goldbeck.com/employers/areas-of-expertise/future-of-food/