FROM THE EDITOR: CSR seems to be out of fashion

An interesting week in the reputation of the rag trade; from haute couture right down to the prince of the discounters.

Danny Rogers, Editor, <em>PRWeek</em>
Danny Rogers, Editor, PRWeek

First it emerges that top fashion retailers including Paul Smith and Giorgio Armani have been banning journalists that have criticised them from their shows. Then it transpires that the discount phenomenon Primark has been selling some clothes that were made by children.

The first example just seems plain childish, if you'll excuse the metaphor. Surely eminent brands such as these can cope with criticism. It is also, of course, an incredibly short-term strategy, which cannot enhance the brands long-term in the eyes of key stakeholders. Thankfully, leading UK fashion PR agencies such as Modus Publicity and Luchford APM have gone on the record in these pages condemning the practice.

But the Primark case is more complex and challenging. The AB Foods-owned company has come from nowhere to be one of the leading retailers on the high street. And it has done so by offering staggeringly cheap clothes.

Bearing in mind the 'build 'em up, knock 'em down' nature of the British media one could have seen this one coming. So it is surprising that AB Foods had so little CSR/crisis management preparation in place.

Primark's response to the BBC's expose of some of its suppliers' unethical behaviour ranged from knee-jerk to surprisingly advanced as the story developed.

Its initial reaction to simply ditch the offending suppliers only led to further criticism from NGOs, who rightly argued 'corporate responsibility' did not end there.

Later, with a PR agency's help, Primark developed a more sophisticated response, using online media, which answered many of the media's questions.

But the story will be sending a chill through many other corporations, because it shows the level of scrutiny now applied to all levels of an organisation's operations.

CSR is no longer an add-on PR technique; it is a crucial strand in corporate culture. Indeed, it is an organisation's licence to keep operating.

Email: danny.rogers@haymarket.com

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