In 2018, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came to the World Economic Forum at Davos to tell corporate leaders, "We’re in the new age of doing business. You need to give back. You need to be part of the solution."
The expectations for companies and brands have never been greater. Social purpose, sustainability, and corporate responsibility are global themes that not only encircle the world, but resonate throughout the years. However, there are vast differences in how they resonate in different global markets.
MSL recently conducted a global study on social activism in seven countries to better understand how expectations around responsible corporate behavior and social change can vary from region to region. While people around the world share a passion about the topic, they have different takes on what social responsibility means.
For example, ethics and honesty resonate most strongly in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Brazil. However, those surveyed in Germany and India are more passionate about advancing societal issues such as the environment, healthcare, education, and human rights. France, on the other hand, prioritizes employee welfare.
Taking a stand
Multiple perspectives prevail about whether brands should take positions on social and political issues. Nearly 83% of those in India and 81% of those in Brazil say brands need to weigh in. In the U.S., however, brands seem to find it much less appealing to take political stands, with fewer than half of the respondents there indicating they are in favor of brands pursuing political actions.
When compared to other countries, more respondents in France and Germany say companies should choose a cause or an issue that aligns with their business if they want to have the strongest impact on society. Meanwhile, Indian and Brazilian respondents most often think that companies should choose a cause or an issue that offers the greatest benefit and strongest impact on society regardless of their business focus. Based on our study’s results, those is the U.S. are most likely to believe companies should not align with any causes or issues outside of making their products and services better at reasonable prices.
There are certainly common sentiments shared by all markets. For example, most survey respondents across all countries believe a company has gone too far when its social activism "raises the price of its products and services to pay for its social activism." Large majorities of people in all countries also feel companies should sell products that are ethically produced.
A new relationship with brands
Today more than ever, a universal correlation can be drawn between people’s alignment to the opinions or actions of brands and their willingness to associate with those same brands.
As compared to other countries, more respondents from the U.K., France, the U.S., and Canada are "much less likely" to work for a company if they disagree with its political leanings.
The most concerning trend is that people universally remain skeptical about corporate responsibility claims. Many believe that when a company takes up CSR activities, they’re doing it more to make themselves look good or make up for bad service or defective products and less to actually help people. Only 4% of respondents in the U.S., 7% in Canada, 5% in the U.K., 7% in France, 3% in Germany, 20% in India, and 8% in Brazil say they would "definitely" believe a company that claims it is "socially responsible."
Each year, the World Economic Forum raises the conversation on some of the biggest challenges facing the global community. What’s universally true is that corporations and brands have an enormous role to play in helping solve the world’s most challenging issues. And while people across the globe hold different perspectives on how brands should engage around some of these issues, companies first need to build corporate trust by being authentic and transparent with their consumers. Only then will their purpose-led initiatives be better received.
Guillaume Herbette is the global CEO of MSL, responsible for the 107-office global network present in 40 countries.