I am writing this letter as a concerned customer, citizen, and in my professional capacity as someone teaching in the field of Corporate Social Responsibility. The reason why I have chosen to do this is the response that the Partnership sent to a campaign requesting that John Lewis and Waitrose stop placing ads in British newspapers that promote hate speech in this country, especially in an environment of increasing violence against many in our society. They have responded on Twitter to communications by @StopFundingHate by arguing that the Partnership does not make editorial judgments on any particular newspaper.
I wish to demonstrate with the following that this stance violates the Partnership’s CSR commitments and to ask YOU, individual partners, to act in order to guide the Partnership to honour its commitments.
The John Lewis Partnership is guided by a series of principles and rules. Principle 7 states the following: The Partnership aims to obey the spirit as well as the letter of the law and to contribute to the wellbeing of the communities where it operates.
My contention is that placing ads in newspapers promoting hate, undermining the peaceful co-existence of the inhabitants of this island is detrimental to the wellbeing of the communities in which the Partnership operates.
The Partnership proudly declares in its CSR documentation that In 2015 it carried out a detailed review of their approach to respecting human rights, drawing on the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). Indeed the Partnership has a long history of positive involvement in human rights issues and in responsible business. This was the result of John Spedan Lewis’s visionary ideas, behaviours and beliefs as your CSR statements correctly highlight.
Placing advertising in newspapers spouting lies, spreading hate and disseminating misinformation that aims to divide the nation and turn sections of the population against each other, betrays the values of the Partnership’s founder.
The Partnership proclaims to be engaged in responsible marketing. This means that its marketing is considerate of customer needs and wishes and protects vulnerable groups.
Do you not consider that the people who fled their countries to escape persecution are vulnerable groups? Don’t you consider that foreign workers, trying to make a life for their families in this country, under difficult conditions, are vulnerable groups? Do you not consider that ethnic and religious minorities persecuted by an abominable press and far-right fanatics are vulnerable groups?
Adhering to the Advertising Standards Authority Code of Practice and other relevant industry codes is not enough if it is done as a tick-box exercise. Do you not proclaim to obey the spirit as well as the letter of rules?
In my research in the field of CSR I argued that voluntarism can be something beyond pretty dressing for corporate branding exercises. I tell my students in Human Rights that CSR has substantive value and that the aim is for businesses to do the appropriate thing because they believe it, not because it scores some marketing points or makes for good tweets.
Other businesses are indeed doing the right thing.
Have I been wrong about John Lewis?
Crucially, YOU as partners, have YOU being wrong? Do you not aspire for the Partnership to be better?
If you do, then I urge you to heed the calls of the Stop Funding Hate campaign and guide the Partnership to honouring its CSR commitments.
Dr. Ioannis Glinavos