David Singleton: Crisis PR must publicise end result

Reports that a factory making jeans for Gap and Levi Strauss is illegally dumping chemical waste in Africa serve as a timely reminder of the importance of good crisis PR.

David Singleton
David Singleton

The scandal was uncovered last weekend by The Sunday Times, which was investigating pollution caused by a plant in Lesotho, southern Africa. The story gained wider circulation on Sky News and CBS, with both channels showing graphic footage of chemical waste pouring into a river and being left on unsecured tips.

As Bell Pottinger's head of crisis comms Alex Woolfall observes on page 12: 'This was a horrible story... (Gap) was accused of polluting the water, the land and the air, and the Gap logo was in virtually every shot.'

Thankfully, neither company shied away from facing up to the environmental havoc apparently wreaked by one of their suppliers. Both immediately acknowledged that it was unacceptable and both pledged to do something about it.

Gap said it would conduct a thorough environmental assessment in Lesotho in partnership with an independent environmental organisation. Levi Strauss told the media it had sent 'a member of our social and environmental sustainability team' to Lesotho to conduct a full investigation. In the face of such serious accusations, the two companies had no choice but to respond with real action rather than spurious soundbites. Having done so, Gap also took to the airwaves to carefully explain the action it had taken.

So far, so good. But the crisis PR should not stop here. All companies say they will investigate such issues, but few ever communicate the outcome. As a brand, Gap in particular likes to promote its social and environmental credentials. If it expects to be taken seriously, the next step is to tell the world what has been done about this dreadful situation.

Millions of people have now seen the footage of waste pouring into a river in Lesotho. When will people have the opportunity to see film on the companies' websites of the same river cleaned up? If Gap and Levi Strauss want to earn back consumers' trust, this is the way to do it.

(Danny Rogers is away)

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