Practical insights for compliance and ethics professionals and commentary on the intersection of compliance and culture.

Ben & Jerry’s CSR origins

Corporate culture is most effective when it is part of the organization’s origins. Compliance by force can never be fully effective at risk control or influencing corporate values. While organizations can and should always be looking to improve their standards and frameworks for compliance risk management, the most successful compliance programs will be rooted in the native culture of the company. For this reason thinking of compliance fundamentals from the beginning (such as described in this post or this post about start-ups, this post about founder-led business, or this post about small businesses) wherever possible gives the greatest chance of imbedding an authentic and engaging culture of compliance.

The above is especially true from a corporate social responsibility (CSR) perspective. CSR values adopted purely and un-authentically, just for competitive advantage or public relations attention, will not be convincing to all consumers or stakeholders, and therefore will not be sustainable. Companies that have some relation to or interest in political issues or social justice should recognize this early and often and incorporate activism and engagement into their company mission statements and values.

Ben & Jerry’s, the American ice cream manufacturer which is now owned by the British-Dutch conglomerate Unilever, is an example of such a company that has been active in CSR from its origins. The company has been community-oriented ever since it was founded in 1978 and cultivated a down-home, grassroots image, with its founders often involved in local campaigns and events targeted toward promoting local artists and partners and appreciating customers and their needs.

Ben & Jerry’s has often participated in awareness and fundraising efforts for political and social issues by collaborating with non-profits such as Children’s Defense Fund (for children’s basic needs), Human Rights Campaign (for LGBT rights), and Common Cause (a government watchdog group), among others; and naming ice cream flavors in recognition of important and even controversial topics (such as renaming the Chubby Hubby, Oh! My! Apple Pie!, and Chocolate Chip Cookies Dough flavors to Hubby Hubby, Apple-y Ever After, and I Dough, I Dough temporarily in honor of marriage equality missions in the US and UK).

Social responsibility and engagement of Ben & Jerry’s has also extended directly to the company’s products, such as in their opposition since the 1990s to the use of recombinant bovine growth hormone (rGBH) to increase milk production in cows, demonstrated by their refusal to use it in any of their products in interests of consumer safety and environmental protection. Ben Jerry’s public discussion of their opposition to the use of rGBH and their financial commitment to this stance by involving their products, and therefore their customers, in this position was one way the company built its social conscience from the beginning and integrated it into is organizational identity.

Genuine CSR objectives and values that are thoughtfully integrated into an organization’s values and strategy can be motivating for consumers and employees alike. While all for-profit companies are in business to make money and it is disingenuous to pretend like this is not the supreme motivation, combining this ambition with social conscience, cultural responsibility, and contributions to justice gives an added meaning to running and growing a business. Companies that have some credible connection to political and social issues – such as products that can be related to industries or markets with practices for reform and improvement, like an ice cream business that can make choices and therefore a statement about practices in the dairy industry – can lead with this message and appeal to consumers and partners with it.

For similar posts on CSR and business values, check out this post on political engagement as corporate strategy at Patagonia, this post on the CSR Roadmap of Tony’s Chocolonely, or this post on CSR tips for compliance programs.

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