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Gloria Johns headshot

How One Brand Continues to Get Social Responsibility Right

By Gloria Johns
social responsibility

According to a recent report from The Association of Corporate Citizenship Professionals (ACCP), corporations are failing to deliver on their corporate social responsibility (CSR) promises, even as they say they have committed to more transparency — and thereby improved performance — surrounding their environmental, social and governance (ESG) efforts. TriplePundit has written extensively about such failures: lack of diversity within the corporation and even in the programs that support diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI); failure to produce measurable results or examples of achieved objectives; and failure to participate in or report DEI efforts.

On the other hand, some companies are hard at it and have adopted social responsibility not only as a priority but as a core value. One such company is Ben & Jerry’s. 

“Our corporate values are based on the values of two real people—our co-founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield,” said Laura Peterson, Ben & Jerry’s Public Elations Manager. “We have long believed in social, economic and environmental justice, and especially where those areas intersect.”

And, there are numerous examples of the company’s bold involvement in social responsibility and even more importantly, social justice.

The Ben & Jerry’s Foundation, founded in 1985, funds organizations in Vermont and around the country that are working for progressive social change.

Inspired by the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in 2020, the Campaign to End Qualified Immunity is another example. Qualified immunity refers to a law that grants government officials immunity from civil suits in most cases that might be questioned as excessive force or inappropriate behavior. 

As Cohen told CNN’s Victor Blackwell: “Right now cops have a get-out-of-jail-free card when they violate somebody’s…rights,” You’ve got to hold people accountable. That’s what ending qualified immunity is about.” 

Just as the murder of George Floyd inspired Ben & Jerry’s to act, so have the most recent shootings at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, where 21 people were assassinated by a teenager with an AR-styled rifle. The first significant gun safety legislation in recent memory—the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act — was signed into law on June 23.

But is it enough? Not according to a recent Ben & Jerry’s blog:

“Corporate America must acknowledge its role in this country’s continuing gun violence. Money is the lifeblood of our political system and corporations and their trade associations bankroll the very politicians who offer thoughts and prayers for victims while ignoring the calls of victims' families to take weapons of war off our streets. It’s time for companies and their trade associations to stop political contributions to elected officials who do the gun lobby's bidding, blocking common sense gun laws that nearly all Americans support.”

Other social responsibility priorities of Ben & Jerry’s include voting rights, racial justice, LGBTQ rights, climate justice and campaign finance reform. 

The brand’s most recent partnership is with Unlock Potential (UP). UP, an initiative run by the Responsible Business Initiative for Justice (RBIJ), is an employment program that assists employers to use hiring and other resources to give at-risk young people the life chances they deserve.

Peterson also told 3p, “Ben & Jerry’s has an excellent reputation for not only ‘supporting’ programs that positively contribute to racial equity, but it is a model for other large corporations in demonstrating corporate social responsibility.”

In light of the dismal ACCP report, the importance of CSR, and the ESG indices that rank companies for viability, 3p asked Ben & Jerry’s to comment on what is necessary for implementing meaningful CSR programs and what prevents other corporations from doing so.

Peterson said, “I think the main reason other companies are not as transparent as we are about our values is fear. For years, companies were told not to get into politics because they would automatically alienate some of their potential consumers. These days, more and more consumers are demanding transparency on what a company stands for because they are voting with their dollars and, increasingly, they want to do business with companies that are aligned with their values.” 

As the company’s co-founder, Ben Cohen, has said many times over the years, the strongest bond a brand can build with a consumer is over commonly shared values.

Image credit: Antonio Manaligod via Unsplash

Gloria Johns headshot

Gloria Johns' career has included her work as a columnist for Scripps-Howard, Gannett and Tribune News Service. She writes for the San Angelo Standard Times and the West Texas Angelus. Previously she was a special features reporter for San Angelo LIVE! Gloria also has nearly thirty years of award-winning grant writing experience for federal, state and county funds to support social, medical, educational and arts projects. She has enjoyed a successful career in telecommunications and nonprofit management. "Gloria is a Purdue University graduate. She has also attended Angelo State University for graduate courses and studied Texas Family Law at Sam Houston State University. She lives just on the edge of the Chihuahua desert in west Texas.

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