News of the Screws and CSR
It’s hard not to feel a bit of schadenfreude over the plight of the News of the World ex-editor now News International bigwig Rebekah Brooks after the latest round of allegations regarding phone hacking. When the story was about invading the privacy of the rich and famous, only a few people cared. Now it seems it was routine to hack into the phones of the victims of terrible crimes and their families – the very people the sanctimonious NOTW claimed to stand up for – and the public have rightly been outraged.
While I usually restrict my posts here to the environmental rather than the ethical elements of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), there are many elements of the story you can read across:
1. Hypocrisy kills trust. NOTW’s invasion of privacy of those they claimed to represent is the killer story here. Likewise when BP claimed to be going “Beyond Petroleum” then didn’t, they were held up to ridicule.
2. The buck stops at the top. Brooks’ claim that it was “inconceivable” that she knew that this was going on holds little water. If she didn’t know, she should have – implicated or incompetent? Tony Hayward of BP showed a similar lack of personal accountability during last year’s oil spill and became a international figure of ridicule – “I want my life back!” before he was shown the door.
3. Brand protection is everything. While the NOTW can no doubt take a short term hit in terms of sales, the real damage will come from advertisers taking their trade elsewhere. Ford have announced they will do so and a number of others are considering their position, urged on by a social media campaign. NOTW is contaminated – the others don’t want cross contamination of their brand. This is similar to how a huge number of top brands have blacklisted Asia Pulp & Paper over rainforest destruction.
4. These things don’t go away – the phone hacking occurred 6-9 years ago. Likewise the Indian courts are still pursuing those responsible for the 1984 Bhopal disaster, jailing several people last year. “Getting away with it” is a long term job.
My advice to News International? Eat humble pie and Brooks at least should fall on her sword. That might give them a chance to claw back some trust.