Stand up and be counted
Posted on August 10, 2017 | By Iain Akerman

If brands and agencies are an intrinsic part of the societies from which they emerge, they should be supporting those societies through thick and thin

'We are not in politics, we are in business’ is a quote I once read or heard. It made an impression, not only because it attempted to negate all moral responsibility, but because it made it easier to countenance the crossing of ethical boundaries.

Some brands and agencies have no qualms about who they do business with or whether they support minority rights or not. Money is money. Business is business. But in a world where brands and agencies claim to be more attuned to society; when they champion social causes; when they attempt to create movements for good; when they talk about corporate social responsibility and business being about more than the bottom line, why do they continue to make what could be viewed as ethically questionable decisions?

Should agencies work for governments that do not hold full legitimacy? Should brands refuse to operate in territories where human rights are suppressed? Should they support equal rights and the freedom of expression and assembly? Or should they just keep their mouths shut? Most seem to favour the latter, particularly in the Middle East.

Yet this flies in the face of current consumer demands for transparency and social responsibility, with brands standing accused of creating a culture of materialistic excess and over consumption, whilst simultaneously marketing themselves as virtuous, even as they ignore issues of inequality, wellbeing and global concerns over the environment and health.

If companies are attempting to be genuinely corporately responsible and to reflect a growing movement towards honest and principled corporate behaviour and communication, how can they support something in a particular market where it is easy to do so, but not take a similar stance in a country where they will face a substantial backlash? Is it not obnoxious that companies choose to align themselves with a cause that no longer holds any controversy in a particular market? How many companies, for instance, openly boycott Israel at risk to their own bottom line? Hardly any. How many companies raise their heads above the parapet when it comes to gender equality in the Middle East? Google it and see if you can find any.

And who can blame them, you could say, when more than half of the Egyptian men questioned as part of the International Men and Gender Equality Survey agreed that “there are times when a woman deserves to be beaten”. And when only 31 per cent of Egyptian men agreed women should have the same rights to work outside the home as their husbands.

Essentially, men’s views of equality between the sexes are tragically out of sync with the hopes of young women. So isn’t it the role of the private sector – as much as it is the public sector – to combat those views?

If brands and agencies claim to be an intrinsic part of society, shouldn’t they be facing the issues of that society head on? No dilly-dallying, no pussyfooting, just standing up for what’s morally right.

What they should not be doing is attaching themselves to the coat-tails of a movement for financial gain. Such insincerity should be boycotted at all cost.