When you think of Nike, what comes to mind?
Probably shoes and athletic apparel and even “just do it.” Do you also think about labor practices?
Nike is one of the most visible examples of the way non-governmental organizations (NGOs) influence change in the today’s economy.
The traditional route to bring about a change in policy is to call Congress and lobby for reform – or to advocate for the status quo. It takes a lot of steps for a bill to climb Capitol Hill and become law. And as Schoolhouse Rock instructed us, very few bills actually make it through.
The glacial pace of the legislative process has prompted many NGOs to look outside of regulatory realm for other ways to bring about change.
Agents for change
Brands – some of the most recognizable names in American homes – have become the agents for change in our culture.
In the case of Nike, a coordinated effort by an international coalition of labor unions, human rights organizations and college groups pressured the athletic shoe company to address working conditions in its factories around the globe. When the groups began their campaign in the 1990s, Nike initially gave them little attention.
Consumers, however, thought it was an important issue. They insisted that Nike should do something about working conditions because it was profitable enough that it could do something. Boycotts of Nike apparel began to take a toll and the company’s image was seriously tarnished. Company leaders realized they needed to look deep within. In 1998, Nike completely changed direction and announced it would work with the NGOs which had been their worst critics.
Nike became open and transparent about its factories and suppliers. The company took the bold step in publishing a report about its factories and the wages paid. Labor organizations consider Nike a role model for reform and encourage other textile businesses to follow their lead.
This is how change happens in our world. Instead of marching up the steps of city hall or petitioning regulatory agencies, we meet up in social media and use our collective power to influence everything from local school policy to how our food is grown. Debate has moved from committee meetings to Change.org.
This concerted pressure is why many food retailers switched to cage-free eggs, why artificial colors were removed from mac and cheese and why fast food restaurants offer apples in kids meals. None of these changes were brought about by laws, but because food companies responded to consumer preferences.
The balance of power has shifted from regulatory agencies to NGOs. While food system stakeholders should continue to monitor bills climbing the steps of Capitol Hill, it is also vitally important to understand other forces at work in the culture.
How can a food company prepare and respond in this environment?
- Engage where the conversations about your brand and your industry are taking place.
- Tune in to discern what activity among NGOs may influence your future.
- Develop a strategy based on your values that grows trust with your stakeholders.
Nike got a second chance to “just do it” and get it right with its customers and stakeholders. Other businesses aren’t always so lucky. Look East can help you understand the forces influencing your organization’s operating environment and be prepared when change comes your way.