Far too many brands today claim some sort of ethical positioning. What’s not always clear is what this actually means. When we say “ethical” is there a clear definition to which we can all agree? The answer is “no”. Ethical means different things to different people.
A vegetarian might argue that any dish containing meat is fundamentally unethical. Whereas a chef might claim that his beef and herb pie is ethical because the cow was reared on a free range, organic farm in the UK. Who is right?
Does ethical mean a good human rights record? Workers rights? Kind to the environment? No animal testing? No involvement in arms dealing?
As a brand, rather than claiming to be ethical, we need to consider specifically what we are doing that might warrant that description – and then focus on promoting that.
And this is where transparency is the key.
For example; as a consumer I might be keen to buy a fair-trade product but not if it involved animal cruelty. And as fair-trade is specifically concerned with people (and not animals) how would I know if my product was kind to animals? Without transparency, it’s impossible to be sure.
By being transparent we can appeal to consumers that share our company’s ethical ideals.
A scheme called “SEE What You Are Buying Into” is a useful way for organisations to be transparent (and for consumers to see what a company does and does not do when it comes to this nebulous world of ethics).
SEE, with a range of partners, has developed a series of questions that companies need to answer. Your answers don’t necessarily have to be perfect, but they do have to be honest and open. And you do have to answer every question to qualify.
Consumers (whether B2B or B2C) can read through the answers and make informed purchasing decisions.
This transparency also helps to hold companies accountable. If you say one thing but are caught doing another – then you can expect the media fall out (and to lose your accreditation).
Few systems are perfect – and this one has its flaws. For example no one is actively policing the answers, it relies on honesty and the wiki theory of consumer checking – in other words someone will spot it if you lie and that someone will report it.
Despite these obvious drawbacks (and most accreditation suffers the same disease) it’s a good place to start and goes a long way to helping you position your brand as “ethical”. See: www.seewhatyouarebuyinginto.com
The Ethical Company Organisation (ECO) runs the Ethical Accreditation Scheme. The accreditation is a combination of your answers and their research, which takes about six weeks and scans over 40,000 public record documents including court reports, criticisms from NGOs, boycott calls and environmental reports.
Their Ethical Company Index is based upon a company’s record for environmental reporting, pollution, animal testing, factory farming, workers rights, involvement in armaments or genetic engineering and other ethical factors.
As a consumer “The Good Shopping Guide”, which they publish annually, is a handy reference book that rates companies’ performances in a variety of ethical areas.
In conclusion, before you decide to claim that your brand is ethical;
1) decide what that means to you
2) decide what you are going to communicate to your customers
3) don’t overplay it – be honest and open, even if it means admitting you aren’t perfect
4) consider an ethical accreditation scheme to give weight to your claims
5) regularly check that your claims are still accurate and up-to-date
Additional reading: I can recommend Chris Arnold’s “Ethical Marketing and the New Consumer” published by Wiley.