Unilever's CMO slams CSR 'posturing'

Unilever’s chief marketing officer Keith Weed has slammed “posturing” brands that develop CSR initiatives simply to sell more products and services.


Speaking during a Chartered Institute of Marketing sponsored debate at the House of Commons earlier this week, Weed says social responsibility needs to be woven into the DNA of a company and not just a “tool to paper over the cracks” in businesses that are failing to serve the communities they operate in.

“It is not enough just to put a glossy picture in your annual report to demonstrate investment in a project in Africa in order to show you are a caring company, ” he added.

He cited Enron – “the poster child of making claims for competitive advantage”, he says – as an example of a company whose claims of ethical practice did not match reality. Enron, which was awarded several accolades for environmental behaviour, filed for bankruptcy in 2001 after it emerged its financial position was based on accounting fraud.

Unilever is two years into its 10-year Sustainable Living Plan, which is aimed at achieving sustainable growth. The company argues its plan is different as it is applied across its value chain.

Weed says all businesses need to develop a new model to serve “the environment and the society they operate in”.

He added: “In a world that’s moving fast we need to think differently about doing business in the 21st century. We cannot have a healthy business without a healthy society. Businesses and not just government need to step up.”

Weed was arguing for the motion “social responsibility claims by businesses amount to little more than posturing to gain commercial advantage”, which was passed.

Readers' comments (2)

  • I am in total agreement with Keith Weed on this. In order to achieve true competitive advantage, any CSR initiatives have to be linked to your business operations and objectives.
    It follows that for a business to be truly sustainable they must think about and account for the economic, social and environmental impacts of their business operations and seek to remove or reduce any negative impacts. Of course there is a place for activity unrelated to business operations, but these should not take precedent over the more strategic initiatives.

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  • Bravo Keith Weed! Achieving sustainable growth should be one of the key goals of all businesses. Supporting a healthy society is a serious competitive advantage. Companies who integrate CSR and ESG matters into their value chain will win customers and will lead the way for other companies. Thank you for arguing this motion.

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