Public opinion often plays a role in policy making within governments and in enterprise. In the public sector, decision makers frequently rely upon outside public policy gurus; folks with an online Masters in public administration or a post graduate of finance and accounting for guidance with respect to matters concerning public opinion and governance. In the private sector, large corporations turn to management consultants with MBA degrees to perform these functions. This reliance upon learned professionals in the field spotlights the importance of how the public thinks about issues surrounding policy making in business and law.
In the world of business, public opinion (or "brand management") is the science of the intangible. What follows is an account of how five companies responded to changes in the public’s opinion of them, by turning themselves around.
The Lesson of Nike
It took twenty years and a global boycott during the 1990’s to get the NIKE Corporation to listen to the people. When they finally did, the campaign for workers’ rights within the best-selling brand’s sub-contractor owned factories became an object lesson on how vast corporations can be brought to account and change for the better. Today, Nike management operates the firm with a culture of openness and transparency that simply didn’t exist twenty years ago.
Kleenex Cleans Up its Act
The makers of Kleenex, the Kimberly-Clark Corporation, re-wrote their entire procurement policy in an effort to reduce the company’s impact on ancient forests in the American Northwest. These forests were being destroyed simply to manufacture the firm’s famous tissue brands. Thanks to consumer activism and the efforts of Greenpeace, Kimberly-Clark was persuaded to change the way it sources wood pulp with the subsequent result of having its brand associated with sustainable living.
Living Wages in Fashion
Donna Karan is a brand that narrowly escaped being labeled a sweatshop employer. Public opinion as well a half-billion dollar settlement in a garment workers lawsuit is what brought this change in corporate culture about. In fashion, there is still a long way to go before better business practices abroad can change for the better of the workers there and in America.
The Sweet Smell of Success
In 2010, the Nestlé Corporation agreed to embark on a path of zero deforestation with respect to its palm oil supply chain. Eight weeks of negative press was all it took to persuade the company to meet with officials from Greenpeace and agree to change how it sources palm oil in the future. Today, the chocolate maker’s policies concerning the buying of palm oil are monitored by the Forest Trust.
Public Awareness Response Averts Cruise Line Boycott
Fear of a boycott caused Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. to install new waste water purification technologies aboard all of its vessels. Public awareness campaigns organized to stop the release of toxic waste water in the ocean were successful in convincing Royal Caribbean to embrace change. To this end, the cruise line met with environmental groups to discover ways to ensure strict quality standards for waste going were enforced going forward. Solutions included allowing third-party auditors to monitor the company’s ship-board activities, and confirm that all waste water is suitable for introduction into the open ocean.
Social movements have the power to shape society as well as a nation’s political structure. They also have the power to change the behavior and the future trajectory of corporate agendas. In the Western world, the way of life we take for granted would be entirely unattainable but for the formidable power brought to bear by public opinion.