Cotton On live streams a school opening in Uganda: How to walk the talk when it comes to social responsibility

The accounts payable system that keeps Cotton On growing: My Best Tech

The spotlight on fashion brands to grow a social conscience is intensifying and labels are starting to respond.

In a first for Cotton On Group, the company brought together more than 400 people at its Geelong headquarters to live stream a primary school opening in Uganda.

Together, the 400 employees watched Cotton On Foundation general manager Tim Diamond open St Timothy’s Primary School, a project developed through a partnership between Planet Factorie and a Ugandan village.

Earlier this month, The Truth Behind the Barcode report revealed more than 60% of global fashion brands are failing to take appropriate action to ensure workers in their supply chains receive a living wage.

Days after the report was released, fashion label Gorman came under fire for a “laughable” attempt at trying to be transparent about who makes its clothes.

The Instagram post generated a lot of anger from consumers who are demanding the brand come clean about its manufacturing processes.

Gorman’s founder, Lisa Gorman, has since said she will publish audits of its factories online in the coming months.

With increasing awareness of human trafficking and manufacturing tragedies, more and more consumers are calling on the labels they love to be more socially conscious.

To make this transformation requires more than simple social media tactics, according to experts.

How to walk the talk when it comes to social responsibility

The Bravery is a communications and PR company dedicated to helping businesses achieve positive social and environmental impact.

Co-founder and director Valentina Zarew has worked on H&M’s sustainability strategy.

“For most businesses, the biggest challenge to achieving sustainability is first knowing where to start, as overhauling or changing aspects of your business can be overwhelming,” Zarew told SmartCompany.

“Once you start the process, most businesses then struggle to set meaningful impacts that are measurable and reportable.”

The next challenge is communicating these initiatives effectively to all key stakeholders, including employees and customers.

Zarew believes businesses often struggle to convey these in an engaging and narrative-driven way, instead opting for “dry sustainability jargon”.

Fellow Bravery co-founder and director Claire Maloney thinks it’s never too late for a business to incorporate a social or environmental purpose.

“It’s very possible for businesses to build purpose into their strategy even if it wasn’t part of their DNA at inception,” she tells SmartCompany.

“It has to be approached like making any other strategic business decisions [with] careful internal analysis [and] industry consultation for example.”

Identify social initiatives that are relevant to you

As a start, Zarew recommends business owners look at what sustainability and social impact initiatives are most relevant to them.

“Start with the ones that are going to deliver you the most financial return and footprint reduction,” she says.

“Take the time to set measurable targets, as these will help you track the business’s progress and adapt your sustainability strategies as you achieve milestones.”

Maloney says businesses should ask themselves where they can make the biggest positive impact, how they may execute it and the best way to adapt or moderate these to fit with the company’s financial targets.

“More often than not, integrating these types of initiatives can generate a healthier bottom-line,” says Maloney.

“Also, if you’re integrating sweeping purpose or sustainability initiatives into the business, it’s important to ask yourself how you are going to address change management, and communicate it from a stakeholder, employee and market perspective.”

Zarew suggests reaching out to other sustainable companies or institutions like The Centre for Sustainability Leadership, School for Social Entrepreneurs and Republic for Everyone to get advice.

“Sustainability is a very collaborative industry,” she says.

To assist with setting goals that align with business outcomes, Maloney also recommends attending sustainability or social impact events to network and link-up with model businesses.

“Don’t hesitate to ask for help,” Maloney says.

Businesses can also partner or collaborate with beneficiaries like Cotton On Foundation has.

“Identify relevant partners you can work with to help you achieve your goals,” Maloney says.

“If you deem your purpose within your business to generate funds for a social or environment cause, make sure you meet with and listen to that existing community as to how you can best add value to the sector.”

Corporate sustainability makes employees more engaged

According to a 2015 study on corporate giving, nearly 90% of Australians revealed employer generosity with charitable projects boosts employee commitment.

“By including your team in the process you’re more likely to stimulate engagement across the entire business,” Maloney says.

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