You’ve probably heard a lot about green wash and pink wash – expressions denoting respectively “façade” environmentalism and feminism, exploited by institutions, organizations and especially brands solely for marketing purposes. In connection with these phenomena, another neologism has recently been born: social washing.
And in this case, the principle remains the same: to create a distorted view of your company among the public and investors, this time on issues related to social issues, in order to generate economic benefits.
In this article, I’ll share everything you need to know about social washing, hoping it will help you recognize and watch out for it.
What Is social washing
The expression “social washing” is a combination of two words: social , which means “social,” and washing, which means whitewashing the walls. In practice, this attention to social responsibility issues is not real, but only “in sight”, so it is not felt and is not supported by concrete actions.
This practice serves to improve the reputation of the companies that use it, both in the eyes of end consumers and investors, as a result of which the former have an incentive to spend more and the latter to provide more generous funding.
How social washing works
Like green wash and pink wash, social wash also occurs mainly through the communication that institutions, organizations and companies carry out with the outside world, through advertising campaigns, interviews, social channels and more. In all of these situations, there is a tendency to create a false or not entirely true image of one’s own society (or the society that one simply imagines) by making people believe that it is attentive to certain problems and is concrete and tangibly committed to solving them.
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But what are these social problems that are talked about when they talk about social washing? Basically, we are talking about the attitude to human capital , or, in simple terms, how companies relate to their employees. In particular, there is too often a lack of transparency regarding the guaranteed minimum wage for workers, which is not always adequate. Moreover, during the pandemic, many companies understandably were – and still are – forced to cut salaries, but they often hide the fact that these cuts do not affect senior management, that is, only the “lower levels.””
Aside from the economic issue, there is a tendency to do social washing for holidays, sickness and access to healthcare (especially in the US). Unsurprisingly, while not a recent phenomenon, social washing has become a hot topic due to COVID-19. In fact, people have begun to take a serious look at how companies treat their employees at a difficult time in history like the one we are experiencing.
How to recognize social washing
In order to recognize any tactics of social washing applied by the brand, it is necessary to estimate corresponds to whether what he advances, that he really does and whether it is possible in any way to track and verify what he says.
To get started, I suggest you go to the website of the company in question, and generally do in-depth research on the Internet to find reliable articles, data, and other information that will help you understand “how it behaves” (a bit like trying to recognize fake news). Some companies (especially large and structured ones) even have a living wage policy that is public and available to everyone. An example is the Inditex group, to which the Zara chain of stores belongs as a famous example.
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In any case, if your analysis shows an image that is completely different from the advertised, then it is very likely that the company is practicing social washing. As an additional test, you can determine if a brand is doing social washing by looking at how it communicates on television, newspapers and social media. For example, if the CEO of a company speaks vaguely about future goals and achievements without backing it up with data, or if he brags that the company has achieved certain standards but does not have an official certification to prove it.
The main problem with social washing is that it misleads people who are really interested in social issues and makes them behave and consume what is not in line with their beliefs .
How would you feel if you found out that the brand you trust and from which you buy goods does not actually offer its employees the minimum wage they need to live a decent life? Social flushing is the manipulation of social problems for the sake of profit, from which you can protect yourself only by informing yourself and becoming more aware of the world around us.