• Explain how corporate social responsibility (CSR) affects crisis communication.
• Differentiate CSR-based challenge crises from ‘washing’.
• Apply the framework for evaluating threats and selecting a response to real-life cases of CSR-based challenge crises.
• Identify the role of reputation and social media in the fusion of CSR and crisis communication.
Introduction: CSR as a Crisis Risk
In July 2011, Greenpeace released a report online entitled ‘Dirty Laundry’ about the use of toxic chemicals in the garment industry, and formally requested that Nike and other major garment manufacturers agree to ‘detox’ by removing a specific chemical from their supply chains. Greenpeace was petitioning the firms for change. Nike declined the request from Greenpeace (as did all the other firms), resulting in the launch of the Detox campaign, an aggressive public communication campaign designed to pressure Nike and the other garment firms to detox. For the next three weeks Nike found itself awash with social media messages claiming their garment-making was irresponsible because it was poisoning employees and water supplies around the world. The first action was filming a dance protest in front of Nike stores at various locations around the globe, which was edited and placed on YouTube. Next came Twitter posts about the toxins found in Nike's clothes and the dangers those chemicals posed to people, animals and the environment, followed by a Nike logo redesign competition to reflect its toxic nature.
What would you do if you were Nike management?
This opening scenario illustrates the complex interrelationships that have evolved between reputations, CSR and crisis communication. CSR communication, from an instrumental perspective, can add value to a firm by enhancing its reputation, a valued asset. Stakeholders can now threaten a firm's reputation by redefining current firm practices as irresponsible. If other stakeholders accept the proposition that the firm is acting irresponsibly, the firm will suffer reputational damage and may even suffer what is called a reputational crisis.