One after the other, two distributors were called to order on ethical issues:
- A report by Mediapart (in French) drew attention to the ethical contradictions of Marks & Spencer: in 2006 the British brand organized a campaign, "Look Behind the Label" - which was hailed as highly innovative and won many awards. Marks & Spencer highlighted its commitments to fair trade, environmental protection, animal welfare, responsible fishing… We are now in 2011 and the UK brand seems to have forgotten that responsible and sustainable policy today has to include the human dimension as well: the Mediapart report reveals that the working conditions in the Chinese textile factories manufacturing for M&S are unacceptable. As FashionMag.com reports, "in the Per Una factory, which manufactures skirts for the UK distributor, the workday extends from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. or 10:00 p.m., with just two days off … per month; in another factory that manufactures swimwear, the working hours were 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. with lodging in premises considered as unhygienic". These commitments – they were indeed innovative in 2006 - are not sufficient today: the Sustainability Index introduced by Walmart in 2009 – which devotes an entire section to "ethical and responsible production" raises new questions such as: "Do you have a process for managing social compliance at the manufacturing level? Do you work with your supply base to resolve issues found during social compliance evaluations and also document specific corrections and improvements?" This campaign was part of the strategic repositioning of a brand in decline - and has certainly achieved its goal. However the concept of "responsibility" evolves over time: Marks & Spencer needs to revise its commitments.
- Groupon - the group-purchase shopping site that became one of the Web wonders in just one year - made a strategic error in its advertising choices at the recent Super Bowl. Promoting "causes" such as the survival of whales, Amazonian rainforests or Tibet, with the backing of stars (including Elizabeth Hurley) Groupon advertised its advantages with off-colour humour: "The people in Tibet are in trouble. Their very culture is in jeopardy... but they still whip off an amazing fish curry", and ended by advising its groupers to buy food in a restaurant!
Having made honourable amends and rewritten their ads, Groupon is faced with another challenge: wishing to enter the Chinese market, they face an outcry from Chinese netizens drawing attention to these ads! Even after attributing a part of the uproar to Chinese nationalism, it is clear that Groupon did not measure the direct (USA) and indirect (its entry into the Chinese market) consequences of its campaign.
We are finally entering the 21st century which - as The Scriptorium Company, in its analysis of Megatrends shows - will be an age of accountability. Web Power will only further assure the development of these new ethical rules and the demand for the empowerment of citizen-consumers (as we are seeing today with the 2.0 revolutions in the Arab countries): brands will really have to be irreproachable.