Consumers as Stakeholders: Women Consumers and Corporate Responsibility

December 2003 Volume I Number 4

Net Contents
I. Network Presentation
“Consumers as Stakeholders: Women Consumers and Corporate Responsibility” Hosted by Unilever

II. Network Presenters and Presentations
Perry Yeatman, Vice President, Corporate Affairs, Unilever
Jim A. Guest, President, Consumers Union
Tom DeLuca, Vice President, Product Development/Safety Assurance, Toys ‘R’ Us (Tom had to cancel because of weather concerns, but graciously supplied his notes for this report)

III. Network Holiday Party
Eileen Fisher Inc. Hosts December Holiday Benefit at Soho Boutique

IV. Network’s New Donor
BP and Nathan Cummings Foundation Sponsor WNSF

V. Network’s Next Event
WNSF to hold panels next year

VI. Network Concept

I. Network Presentation
Thanks…to all who attended WNSF’s sixth event, the luncheon panel presentation “Consumer as Stakeholder: Women Consumers and Corporate Responsibility,” hosted by Unilever in NYC on December 2. And to those of you who missed it, we look forward to welcoming you to our events in 2004.

II. Network Presenters
The presentations on “Consumers as Stakeholders: Women Consumers and Corporate Responsibility” showed clearly: Consumers have learned how to make their opinions and values count, and increasingly companies have been incorporating consumers’ messages into their policies.

More and more consumers are now voting with their dollars on how well a corporation addresses values like its impact on the environment, health, society-and on consumers’ pocketbooks. Explaining the growing trend of ‘sustainable consumption,’ Jim Guest, president of Consumers Union, said: “In a global survey of 22,000 consumers conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers in 1999–even before the Enron or Ford/Firestone debacles made national headlines–40 percent reported that during the past year they had responded negatively to actions by a company perceived as not socially responsible. And half of this number–one in five–reported avoiding the company’s product or speaking out against it to others.”

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) now contributes importantly to a company’s public image and therefore has become a key business factor. According to Tom DeLuca, vice president of product development at Toys ‘R’ Us, 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies have established a code of conduct policy. Importantly, women comprise a majority of Toys ‘R’ Us’s customer base, and its product safety messages are geared to ‘Mom.’

Eighty-five percent of Unilever’s products, sold in virtually every household in the U.S., Europe and beyond, are purchased by women, said Perry Yeatman, vice president of corporate affairs. Responding to consumers’ growing concern with environmental and social values, Unilever has developed a scorecard to measure its performance relative to stakeholders’ principles. Yeatman pointed out that the company’s consumers, employees and other stakeholders often overlap, and that Unilever’s approach to measurement reflects consumer needs and safety, as well as eco-efficiency in manufacturing and eco-innovation in products.

Companies have to maintain an environmentally friendly and socially responsible image-and policy-partly to avoid backlash from consumers, watchdog groups, the media and NGOs who target corporations that do not comply with their values. Yeatman explained that Unilever, the world’s largest buyer of fish and largest producer of fish fingers, entered into a partnership with World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to address over-fishing of some species. Greenpeace initially raised the issue with Unilever, and the company subsequently promised to buy only fish from sustainable fisheries by 2005. As it turns out, this deadline probably won’t be met, mainly because the supply from sustainable fisheries won’t satisfy demand that soon. Yeatman also mentioned that sometimes consumers are part of the sustainability problem. In the case of fish fingers, consumers actually prefer the taste of some species that are fast disappearing. Unilever is experimenting with flavor additives to appeal to consumers’ palates.

New social demands placed on companies have changed their attitudes toward product recalls, too. Once considered a mere necessary evil, product recalls affect a company’s reputation, so managing them skillfully becomes an ever more important tool to position the company as responsible, honest and trustworthy.

Even corporate watchdogs have to pay attention to product tests to avoid public fiascos: Two years ago Consumers Union found itself in the embarrassing position of having to recall a promotional glove compartment organizer it had sent out-untested-as part of a marketing campaign.

III. Network’s Holiday Party
WNSF thanks Eileen Fisher Inc. for hosting a festive holiday benefit at its flagship boutique in Soho on December 9. The company generously donated 10 percent of the day’s sales to WNSF. Special thanks to Amy Hall, Susan Schor, Christine Wiltshire and Ann Young.

IV. Network’s New Donor
WNSF thanks new sponsors, BP and the Nathan Cummings Foundation, for their generous contributions to the Network.

V. Network’s Next Scheduled Events
Look for email invitations early next year to WNSF luncheon panels and other events.

VI. Network Concept
The concept of the Women’s Network for a Sustainable Future is to provide a forum for business and professional women to congregate, reflect and act on the converging issues of corporate social responsibility and sustainable development. Through meetings and simple electronic support tools, the Network aims to facilitate the exchange of experiences and best practices on these vital workplace issues. By creating a new network of executive women, the Network seeks to: improve responsible practices in workplaces; sensitize corporate culture more generally to issues of sustainability and social responsibility; and encourage a public commitment locally, nationally and internationally to sustainability principles.

The Women’s Network for a Sustainable Future is a 501c3 organization.
For more information, please contact: Ann Goodman, Acting Director
Women’s Network for a Sustainable Future
Please direct inquiries to:

Fiscal Agent: National Environmental Education & Training Foundation
1707 H Street NW, Suite 900
Washington, D.C. 20006
T: 202-833-2933
WNSF Board Member/NEETF Liaison: Deborah Sliter, Vice President of Programs

Board of Directors: Linda Descano, COO, Women & Co., CitiGroup; Muni Figueres, formerly of the Costa Rican Foundation for Sustainable Development; Joanne Fox-Przeworski, Director, Bard Center for Environmental Policy, Bard College; Ann Goodman, President, Telesis Consulting and Acting Director, WNSF; Clair Krizov, Executive Director of Environmental and Social Responsibility, AT&T; Joyce LaValle, Senior Vice President, Interface Inc.; Kathy Robb, Esq., Partner and Head of Environmental Practice, Hunton & Williams; Deborah Sliter, Vice President of Programs, National Environmental Education & Training Foundation.

This issue of Net Notes from the Women’s Network for a Sustainable Future was written by Irmintraud Jost and edited by Ann Goodman.

The Women’s Network for a Sustainable Future gratefully acknowledges Founding Sponsors AT&T and the Ford Foundation for their generous grants.

“Plans to protect air and water, wilderness and wildlife are in fact plans to protect man.” – Stewart L. Udall

“Forget the damned motor car and build the cities for lovers and friends.” – Lewis Mumford

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