COOKING UP SCHEMES
They’ve been known globally for their infectious “Mmmmm mmmm good” slogan. In recent years, however, the New Jersey based, food and beverage company that brought us V8 Splash, Pepperidge Farm and Campbell’s Soup, has become known for a bit more – their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Campbell Soup Co. has consistently made the top ten list of Corporate Responsibility Magazine’s 100 Best Corporate Citizens – placing second in 2011 and eight in 2012. The company was also the only food and beverage company in the US to make Corporate Knights’ 2012 Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporation rank. Indeed, Campbell Soup Co. has seemingly embraced the CSR movement that’s been transforming the global business environment. Not only has it willing integrated CSR into its business strategy, but it also hired a vice president of CSR in 2010. Even further, the company incorporated the culture into its mission: “Together we will build the world’s most extraordinary food company by nourishing people’s lives everywhere, every day.” On its website, it glaringly displays its CSR initiatives, which it labels: “nourishing the community, nourishing the planet, nourishing consumers and nourishing employees”; even stating its total giving – approximately $51 million of its $805 earnings for 2012. Given these initiatives and the unquestionable influence that they have on its bottom-line, one must ask the question, is Campbell Soup Co. truly concerned about its impact on the well-being of its stakeholders, or is this all high level greenwashing? A closer look at the company’s activities reveals an unequal mix between the two.
Let’s start with the good. Campbell’s Soup actually defines a set of external and internal CSR goals, which it hopes to achieve by 2020. Among these, is its intent to improve the health of young people in hometown communities, by reducing hunger and childhood obesity by 50 percent. In its hometown of Camden, New Jersey, the company launched its Healthy Communities Initiative in 2011. Partnering with NGOs, such as United Way, the Y and the Food Trust, Campbell hopes to increase access to nutritious and fresh foods; access to safe places to play and access to nutrition and health education. The company will pump USD 10 million into the initiative over the next ten years.[iv] The Campbell Soup Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the company, besides offering grants that inspire positive changes in communities, also offers a Camden Summer Program providing art and culture education and recreational activities for 10,000 youth. The program is now in its 39th year.
Campbell’s Soup has also joined the fight against hunger. In Canada, employees developed a nutrient rich, meal-in-a-can called Nourish, solely for donations. Roughly 200,000 cans of Nourish were created and distributed to food banks. Of those that were sold, 100% of the net profits were used to fund hunger relief efforts. Further, in the US, more than 264 million people have been exposed to hunger awareness due to a partnership between Campbell and Student in Free Enterprise (SIFE), a non-profit education organization. The partnership, called Let’s Can Hunger, is a competition that encourages teams to develop creative, sustainable solutions to treat hunger and bring awareness to the issue. Campbell’s AdDress Your Heart program, its Stamp Out Hunger program, Dollars for Doers program, and unwavering employee volunteerism initiatives, also validate the company’s claims of giving back.
Campbell has also made significant strides in achieving its 2020 goal of cutting its environmental footprint in half. In 2012, the company developed a 60 acre, 10 megawatt solar panel at its largest manufacturing site in Napoleon, Ohio. The 24,000 sun-tracking panels generates 15% of the energy needed to run the facility. in 2012 alone, the company significantly reduced its plastic usage, cutting Goldfish bread and Deli Flats packaging by 65% (by unit weight), and V8 PET bottling by more than 540,000 pounds. From 2005 to now, Campbell has successfully reduced its water and energy use by approximately 17 and 15% respectively.[vii] So where does Campbell’s efforts at CSR become muddled? These appear when analyzing its impact on its employees and on its customers.
In 2011, Campbell’s spent USD 1.4 million in tuition assistance, allowing eligible employees the opportunity to complete courses at accredited schools. Through its Campbell’s University, it further offered classroom-based courses, webinars, podcasts and self-paced e-learning objectives. On a yearly basis, it hosts a Pepperidge Farm Innovation Fair, which allows employees worldwide, the opportunity to showcase their best ideas for new products, with the oft chance of having them developed and commercialized. Added to that, the company maintains a steady flow of communication to its employees, awards excellence, and has an entire code of ethics governing their treatment. With these initiatives and more, one would expect Campbell’s to appear on Fortune’s list of the top 100 companies to work for. However, this isn’t so. Where it has appeared, however, is in a class action lawsuit with African American employees.
In its code of ethics, Campbell contends that it is “committed to promoting equal opportunity. We recruit, hire, train, promote, compensate, discipline and provide other conditions of employment on the basis of merit, and without regard to a person’s race, color, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status, veteran status, disability, age, religion, or any other legally protected characteristic.” Yet according to the suit, and to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which sided with the plaintiff, Campbell has repeatedly awarded promotions using a subjective, informal and secretive method that awarded less qualified, less experienced Whites greater opportunities for promotions than it did their more experienced, qualified black colleagues. The case goes as far as to explain how an Account Executive position was removed after an African American was promoted to it. The employee later resigned after being transferred to a post three levels below. Most disturbing, was Campbell’s decision to reinstate the post, filling it with a white employee, within three months of the black employee’s resignation.
Another disturbing truth affecting the validity of Campbell’s CSR claims, has been the company’s treatment of the issue of genetically modified organisms (GMO). On its labels, Campbell certifies that its soups are all natural, yet multiple varieties of its soups are made using GMOs. GMOs have been suspected of causing cancer and other health problems. This has prompted a number of countries, including Japan, France, Egypt, Peru and Sweden to impose bans on products made from it. In the US, the state of California sought to pass Proposition 37 – legislation requiring the mandatory inclusion of GMO labels on food products. Due to major backing – some USD 46 million – from major corporations, such as Monsanto, Dow Chemical, General Mills and Campbell’s, the bill was denied.[xii] Given that the actual cost to change existing labels to include GMOs would have been insignificant if the bill had passed, it follows that Campbell only fought the bill to safeguard itself from the potential drop in sales the label would’ve caused. If the company is as committed to protecting the wellbeing of its consumers as it states, it would not have fought as hard as it did against the bill. As a result of its actions, Campbell is currently facing a class action suit for its “All Natural” label.
In what appears to be another sneaky and deceptive move, Campbell’s premium-priced, low sodium tomato soup was found to actually contain the same amount of sodium as the company’s regular soup. Though Campbell contends it meant that the low sodium label was relative to the average of all its soups, the company played on the ignorance of its consumers, who assumed the soup was less salty than its regular tomato soup counterpart. To this end, in 2011, the company ended up settling a class action suit to the tune of USD 1.4 million.
Overall, Campbell’s Soup must be applauded for the majority of its CSR initiatives, which do actually go toward developing its community and the environment. However, like some human beings, when backed against a wall, it is not immune to “cooking up schemes” to safeguard its own bottom-line.