Eleven hundred and twenty seven factory workers confirmed dead and the search for more has ended; people buried under the rubble of corruption made possible by every government agency who looked the other way (and will in all likelihood continue to do so); every company that forces their contractors to cut costs to levels that simply cannot be achieved through legitimate means. All this fueled by millions of consumers who want to buy their stuff for less and less money and don’t want to know how that’s made possible. Public outrage coupled with calls for reform. Plausible deniability used as a defense by every company who currently or has ever had merchandise produced in that building – a tactic used over centuries by politicians, diplomats, military leaders, Wal-Mart and BP (there are more, but you get it). Pour all of that into a big pot; stir vigorously and you get – Bangladesh.
Virtually every PR and consulting firm involved in reputation management has urged all the brands to come clean, admit their involvement, do their ceremonial mea culpa dance and sign up to participate, physically and financially, in legitimate reform in Bangladesh. The current average wage for factory workers there is $38 a month. Building and safety codes are non-existent (kind of like Texas but with fewer construction skills and lower quality materials).
It will be interesting over the next few months to see which companies will follow those recommendations. So far, most are not. They say that, to the best of their knowledge (the plausible deniability game) they either don’t currently have goods made there, or they never have, or whoever was making their goods there was not an authorized supplier. And, by golly, they will investigate and learn the truth. Right.
Public outrage and calls for reform will go on at full steam in this country until several major retailers announce their next blockbuster, money saving, we’re-practically-giving-the-stuff-away SALE. Outrage doesn’t stand a chance against lower prices.
The PR firms have cautioned the players that public opinion can seriously damage these companies’ Brands, and that if that happens it won’t just fade away.
I see it differently. I think public outrage in this country has the life span of a fruit fly (8 to 30 days from egg to funeral).
The brand damage will come from the strategies used by competitors and their brands that actually did NOT, never have and never will have their goods produced in Bangladesh. How they position their brands, the messages and sales promotion tactics they use and the effectiveness of their public awareness campaigns can, in fact, cause measurable damage to all the brands that are now playing the plausible deniability game.
- When you screw up, ALWAYS come clean and do it in a big, genuine way.
- Work on legitimately fixing the problem and put safeguards in place to prevent a reoccurrence.
- Constantly stay ahead of the problem. If negative news is about to be published, get out there with your story first. Don’t become the target of accusations, even if you are not as dirty as the news stories may suggest.