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As we continue to grow in the Canadian market and foster partnerships with amazing organizations in North America, we have noticed a mixture of both small grass root start-ups and large multinationals taking on the ethical consumerism movement. This trend beg the question: should we really be trusting large corporations to take on this social responsibility?

So what companies are we talking about? What sort of campaigns? Companies like Second Cup (fair trade coffee), Cadbury (fair trade chocolate), BMO Bank of Montreal (launching banking services in remote northern and Aboriginal communities), Nike (using more sustainable materials in their attire and launching programs to help adolescent girls in Africa) and Gap Inc. (Gap Red) are launching initiatives to improve the social impact of their products, their brand and their processes.

But are these just ploys to increase these company’s stock prices or are they actually contributing to the social consumerism movement, with ethical and sustainable strategies? Transparency is a huge hurdle here – both for large corporation and smaller start-ups.

Yet, the opposing argument is that the only way to create a large enough change in the consumer mentality is to go big – to go to where the majority of customers flock. It is obvious that the examples listed above all have significant market share in their industries, so it is logical to assume that any socially-conscious additions they make to their process and products will have a larger impact then a majority of social enterprise start-ups.

I think the key to a successful “big-box” ethically-friendly campaign lies in how sustainable it is, how transparent it is, and how large its impact it is. Cadbury is a case study that shows a successful example of meeting these criteria. Cadbury has taken one of the world’s oldest chocolate brands (Dairy Milk) and gotten it a Fair Trade certification. So how does this fit our criteria?

  1. It is sustainable: By making their chocolate fair trade they are implementing a change that is long-lasting and significant
  2. It is transparent: They have created a blog, a Twitter and released a lot of media content to explain their Fair Trade Certification
  3. It will have a large impact: Since Dairy Milk is an already popular brand – this change will reach a wide audience and have a significant social and economic impact.

Our verdict: As long as a company can show how their efforts are sustainable, have a transparent process that shows were the impact lies and display a large impact as a result of their actions, even large corporations can join the grass roots movement to a more ethical consumer.

That being said, similar rules can apply to small-sized companies too – the need to have a sustainable vision, a transparent process and a significant impact (on a smaller scope) are essential to the success of a social venture. Your thoughts?