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Employer Branding: 5 Brands Getting CSR Right

In today’s socially aware environment, employees want more than just a pay check. People are increasingly interested in working for a company whose values match their own — to the extent that attracting talent through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategies has become as important to the hiring process as competitive salaries and employee benefits. Research by Nielsen has shown that 67% of employees prefer to work for socially responsible companies and a recent sustainability studies have demonstrated that effective CSR can increase employee retention by over 50%. So it’s simple enough really —  the companies that have matched their growth strategies to their values are a step ahead in future-proofing their businesses.

At this stage of the game it’s pretty clear that companies benefit from CSR in more ways than that great feeling you get when you do the right thing  — but only if you’re doing it correctly. As explained in our DNA HR Manifesto, for a CSR strategy to be effective it needs to fit with your employer brand, and your employees should understand why they support the initiatives that they do. CSR is no more than fallacious marketing — or ‘hypocritical window-dressing’ as famously stated by Milton Friedman — if it lacks any real meaning behind it. 

But companies are beginning to wake up and smell the roses —  and not the one’s planted in the corporate garden once a year. In order for your employer brand and retention rates to reap the rewards of CSR, your strategy needs genuine buy-in from inside your organisation; from top to bottom. And by giving your CSR programme the respect it deserves and aligning these efforts with your company values, not only will it do wonders for your employer brand —  it will maximise the impact of your philanthropic efforts too. 

Here are five companies getting their CSR strategies right:

1. Salesforce

Under the leadership of CEO Marc Benioff; Salesforce has become the poster-child for CSR within the tech industry. Based on its 1:1:1 model — giving 1% of their employee’s time, 1% of their product and 1% of their net profit to communities and charities, social awareness forms a cornerstone of the company’s business model. Employees are given flexible volunteering options – from skills-based initiatives, to direct volunteering for a worthy cause of their choice. And this strategy doesn’t just work for gigantic workforces of 30,000-plus employees — check out how our very own Atomic Foundation was inspired by the same 1:1:1 model. 

2. Lego 

Lego has come a long way from its days of partnering with petroleum giant, Shell  — and has reinvented itself as a major proponent for sustainability through its CSR activities in recent years. The thinking behind Lego’s environmental initiatives is simple  — as a company designed to bring joy to children, they see it as their duty to protect the Earth for them. In order to do this, they’ve partnered with organisations such as WWF, established their own projects such as Build for Change and sustainable products initiatives, and have been committed to inspiring children to imagine sustainable futures. And this turn-around has been a success — not only have Lego’s CSR efforts reduced their environmental impact, in 2023 CR RepTrak  ranked them in the top three leading examples of social responsibility globally.

3. Patagonia

Patagonia is leading the pack when it comes to climate protecting CSR. And while the company has always been ahead of corporate responsibility trends, its latest mission statement —  “We’re in Business to Save the Planet” — highlights the extent of the integration of its products, values and CSR activities. Over the years, the business has taken some radical approaches to social responsibility. Its 2016 ‘100% For the Planet’ Black Friday initiative, saw the entire day’s sales go to environmental organisations as a protest against mass consumerism. Not only did this bold move generate international press, sales increased exponentially too —  all while reiterating its core values to its target audience.

4. Tony Chocolonely

Tony Chocolonely — the Dutch confectionery company — takes its CSR seriously. With noble origins, the business was founded by an investigative journalist after he learnt of the vast injustices of the global cocoa industry — and is dedicated to the goal of creating a 100% slave-free chocolate industry. From the establishment of direct relationships with cocoa farmers to the unequal division of the chocolate bar to symbolise the inequities within the chocolate industry, the product is a manifestation of the company’s values. And this unwavering commitment to CSR within its business strategy hasn’t gone unrewarded on its bottom line — in 2018 the company made €44.9m in annual revenue and is the market-leading brand in the Netherlands. 

5. Microsoft

Not only does the tech giant’s co-founder Bill Gates have a sterling reputation for social responsibility — the same commitment is entrenched within the Microsoft business model itself. Microsoft believes that the greatest resources they can offer to CSR initiatives are the power of its technology and their employees’ professional skills —  encouraging its workforce to participate in NGO activities where their skillset will have maximum impact, like the MakeWhatsNext initiative. And this acknowledgement that CSR isn’t just about employee engagement — but making a genuine impact on important issues — has ensured that Microsoft has been sitting comfortably high in CSR ratings consistently.

An effective CSR strategy doesn’t have to be confined to industry big shots. It’s important to give back — but make sure you’re doing it the right way, and for the right reasons. Pick initiatives that will inspire genuine employee buy-in, and align your CSR initiatives to the core values held by your company. At the end of the day, the right thing should just make sense.

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