Corporate social responsibility is sometimes sadly just a fancy phrase. But when it is taken seriously and done right, it can be very powerful.
This autumn H&M ran the ‘She is a Lady’ campaign, which defies societal beauty standards for woman. We see body hair and a refreshing mix of body shapes and sizes.
There is a visible distinction between this H&M campaign and most of their previous ones. The textile retailer has changed its frame of the game.
According to Entman, to ‘frame is to select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating text’ (1993). But why did H&M suddenly decide that it is important to show women of all sizes and ages rather than size zero, young, long-legged supermodels?
Thanks to feminists, activists, and popular culture engaging with the topic of the perception of women’s bodies on various platforms the anti-body-shaming movement emerged. It is called the cultural turn or the politics of signification (Hall, 1982).
Trends, movements, and pop culture are picked up by companies – especially when they are a lifestyle brand like H&M. At first, the campaign seems commendable. Upon closer inspection, the frame shakes.
H&M produces much of its products in Bangladesh, where – mostly women – work in factories under poor working conditions; for long hours and a very low wage. In 2013 the Rhana Plaza incident killed 1,129 people. In the ruins of the building clothes with various brand tags were found. Amongst them H&M-tags.
Despite the companies effort to improve its ways ever since, their production chain remain opaque. It promotes fast-fashion and consumerism, which contributes to climate change and social injustice.
Why does H&M encourage independence, empowerment, and freedom for urban, western women yet take the exact same from its female employees in developing countries?
This ‘frame shaking’ is actually based on the frame resonance. The credibility and the salience of the framed topic need to add up. In the case of H&M the equation is simply zero. It is a cross-dressing campaign to improve the image of the brand and increase profits.
A company where credibility and salience work together like fish and chips is Patagonia. The outdoor clothing brand produces under fair and organic conditions. It financially supports environmental campaigns – this year even with 100% of its Black Friday profits. In the podcast ‘The Growth Show’, Rick Ridgeway, Patagonia’s VP of environmental affairs talks about how a company’s message can only be credible if it is truthful. At Patagonia, they achieve this with full transparency – “telling the good and the bad. It’s having the moxie to openly tell our customers and other external stakeholders about the harm that we are doing.”
Entman, R. (1993). Framing: Toward clarification of a fractured paradigm. Journal of Communication, 43 (4), 51-57.
Hall, S. (1982). The Rediscovery of ‘Ideology’: Return of the Repressed in Media Studies. In: Storey, J. Cultural Theory and Popular Culture. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 56-90.
Polletta, F. (1998). Contending Stories: Narrative in Social Movements. Qualitative Sociology, 21(4), 419–446.