Consumers are now more than ever likely to expect companies to act in socially responsibly ways. A recent study showed that 60 percent of consumers want to see companies’ values and stances more transparently, and 53 percent believe that companies can do more than governments to solve social issues.
Improving social responsibility requires broad, holistic engagements that reach beyond company walls to influence decision-makers, fostering cross-sector partnerships. With their size and reach, multinational companies can influence their peers, investors and political leaders to increase action for sustainable development. By cooperating they can contribute to wider systemic changes, for instance in supply chain transparency, capital markets or consumption patterns. Corporate advocacy is an instrument with which companies can promote an environment that enables promoting sustainable solutions and encouraging new ones. The Action, Collaboration, Transformation (ACT) coalition represents a significant milestone on the journey to fair wages. It comprises 20 global brands, including H&M and IndustriAll Global Union. It is the first global framework for living wages in the garment sector and demonstrates the power of corporate advocacy. Its mission is to transform the garment, textile, and footwear industries, and achieve living wages through collective bargaining. While local employers and trade unions should negotiate wages and working conditions with each other, brands can contribute with a commitment to purchase only from responsible suppliers. ACT enables industry-wide action, which is necessary for large scale change. By collaborating, brands can take advantage of their collective leverage, pressure suppliers to change their practices, and support countries to take transformative action.
A top priority for the Spanish coffee company Supracafé is to improve pay and working conditions for Colombian coffee growers. At the core of their approach is gaining a deeper understanding of the needs of farmers. “We consider ourselves fortunate to work with the women at their coffee grower association. We introduce ourselves as ambassadors of their coffee at the events in which we participate in, and constantly recognize the people behind each cup of coffee. It is very important to us that our farmers are informed, and that they participate actively in our projects through which we constantly improve and adapt, to ensure we (have a positive impact) on their lives,” says Supracafé’s Chief Sustainability Officer Samuel F. Ricardo Ruiz.
Empowering coffee farmers has brought Supracafé increased productivity and quality, enhanced credibility among clients and improved ability to manage risks.
Interesting examples of corporate advocacy have also been seen in the sphere of climate politics. Businesses advocated around the process leading to the Paris Agreement, demanding strong commitments from governments. During later climate meetings, companies have urged governments to effectively implement their national climate action plans, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), and put forward policies which would enable businesses to make commitments in line with these plans. In 2017, when the United States announced they would withdraw from the Paris Agreement, major companies appealed to president Trump to stay in the agreement. Even though the US withdrew, many companies announced their support for the agreement.
A coalition called We Mean Business comprises 863 companies making climate commitments worldwide. It is a platform that brings together influential businesses and investors to increase their impact on policy change for a transition to a zero-carbon economy. It mobilizes businesses to set ambitious and impactful targets, influences governments to create ambitious and enabling policies, and accelerates change through partnerships with public sector and civil society.
Corporate advocacy is also performed through public-private partnerships, of which the Global Shea Alliance (GSA) is a good example. It is a non-profit association advocating for policies that promote a sustainable shea industry in Africa and around the world. GSA has 525 members from 35 countries including women’s groups, suppliers, brands and retailers, non-profits, national producer associations and affiliate members. They promote fair business practices, removing trade barriers, and training for improved quality of shea products. L’OCCITANE benefits from the GSA in three different ways. Firstly, they support with linkages and networks such as its RESIST programme which is funded by USAID and initiated by GSA. Secondly, they provide technical expertize and help L’OCCITANE find new markets. Lastly, they provide important information about pricing.
Historically, corporate advocacy has been seen as radically different from civil society advocacy, associated more with powerful lobbying of politicians behind closed doors than mobilizing ordinary people. More and more companies, however, have acknowledged the opportunities that grassroots advocacy brings in terms of both doing good in the world and supporting their business and have started encouraging their customers to advocate for causes they care about.