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Ethics had a decent recession, but consumer sentiment is not immune

Most of us would probably agree that corporate responsibility weathered the recession pretty well.

There were of course some exceptions. The environmental, social and governance teams in the big UK banks took a beating, with many of them made redundant.

Discretionary spending, pay rises and travel were severely curtailed for executives as we all know.

Attendance at conferences was way down and in some cases has not come back as strongly as 2007.

That’s all fair enough. As we all know, spending in 2007 was a bit out of control in many ways.

So whilst CR had a decent recession, (think of all the big corporate announcements in the area from 2008-10) a summary of IPSOS MORI stats on consumer trends caught my eye today. I’m finishing off the marking of corporate responsibility module MSc essays from my students at Birkbeck, a University of London college where I teach part time, and this summary below from a student essay gave me pause for thought:

“IPSOS Mori have regularly polled in the UK about the importance of social responsibility to consumers spending decisions. In 1997 24% indicated it was very important, 46% fairly important and 24% either ‘not very important’ or ‘not at all important.’ A peak year was 2001 when 46% responded ‘very important’ together with 43% ‘fairly important.’ But by 2009 the ‘not important’ group numbered 21%, the highest figure since 1997. The ‘very important’ group were down to 26%, the lowest total since 1997 and a fall of 17% in just one year. This indicates some salience of economic prosperity to consumer opinion on corporate responsibility.”

The last line is undoubtedly true. And it’s not as if we didn’t know this, it’s just useful to see the trends going back a few years, at least as they appear to the particular researchers.

There are of course, many myriad other drivers for responsible business strategy integration into large companies, not least regulation and supply security. These numbers just show us yet again that no company should base it’s strategy solely on consumers.

If you want to know how Chinese corporate responsibility fared in the downturn, this podcast might be of interest.

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