As a company we have strong views on the need to combine our business practices with a socially responsible attitude, and we are very much focused on making sure that the people we do business with share our values in this area. Commercial success should be achievable whilst respecting ethical values, the environment, and the needs and concerns of society as a whole.
Our approach to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) covers every aspect of the business, from the brands we represent to the licensees we sign, right down to the factories where licensed goods are being produced. The contracts we draw up include the standards and rules that we expect our licensees to abide by in relation to this area and we will, and have, penalised licensees for not complying with these clauses. We have also turned potential clients down – particularly in promotions, which is often a case of low-cost and low-responsibility.
One area of licensing where I feel that the concept of CSR is particularly important is kids’ properties. This is a sector that we are increasingly becoming involved in, but we are only dealing with brands that can provide some sort of social or educational benefit for kids.
All of the kids’ properties that we are currently representing - Nintendo, Planet Cook and Numberjacks - fit in with our requirements in regards to greater social responsibility. Planet Cook is a kids TV show that is not only teaching kids about the importance of healthy food, but also showing them how to cook and prepare meals – it’s about providing and enhancing an important life skill and we are really thrilled to be working with the brand.
Similarly, Numberjacks is a pre-school property that is teaching kids incredibly important skills – it shows pre-schoolers how to develop their use of numeracy in a really interesting and fun way.
Nintendo is perhaps a more interesting test of our attitude towards CSR. Although in manufacturing and internal processes, Nintendo is highly compliant. However, it is easy to argue that the video game business is not especially socially responsible, given the accusations levelled at it with regards to adding to the obesity problem and discouraging kids from socialising. Nintendo has taken these concerns on board and made real efforts to address them.
The development of the Wii and the DS has been fantastic in helping kids to socialise and exercise, it actually encourages families and groups of friends to get together and play games and many of those games are actually very active. Certainly there are concerns and issues regarding the video games market, but we can see that Nintendo is really trying to address those issues and promote a healthy and happy approach to childhood. By contrast, there are other console manufacturers that we simply would not work with because they do not have a similarly responsible attitude to their product.
Obviously perspective is important when considering CSR and any company has to balance its responsibilities in this area with its central ethos of growing and thriving as a business. However, a socially responsible attitude also makes sound business sense. Consumers are becoming ever more aware of the environmental and social implications of the products and brands they buy and are increasingly making purchasing decisions related to those concerns.
A company can’t be expected to operate in the same way as a charity, but there has to be a balance and by combining a successful business with a socially responsible attitude we can create a sustainable way of doing business that will provide a strong basis for the future.
David Ball is joint managing director of Performance Brands.