Author Paul Klein talks about the growing issue of social washing


Now more than ever companies are taking a stand on social and political issues, but usually for short-term promotions. Social change expert and author of ‘Change for Good‘, Paul Klein, joined us today to talk about the growing issue of ‘social washing’.

In the weeks and months following the death of George Floyd in the United States and after the discovery of remains at Canada’s residential schools, Klein explains that individuals and corporations across North America stepped forward with promises to ramp up their corporate responsibility initiatives and take action.

He says HBC sold orange shirts to residential school survivors to mark the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, despite the company’s role in the colonization of Canada. Klein also points out that Nike proclaimed it was “proudly Indigenous” despite the fact that it isn’t in fact Indigenous and was accused of attempting to “social wash” its actions.

Klein says many of these actions were at best, a cause marketing promotion disguised as social responsibility rather than a substantive programmatic approach to social change.

He says the whole premise of his book “Change for Good” is that companies do more than just talk about what they’re doing and actually do something.

Klein says companies today are good at Corporate Social Responsibilities (CSR), which means they are good at telling stories, without actually doing anything that will make a difference.

“[Companies] have to be doing more than just promoting,” said Klein. “You actually have to have a program…so that is something I would advise people to look for-”

Klein says one of the examples of a company making social change happened in Hamilton. In 1948, “The Taylor Project” came out of a business in Hamilton called Hopley. The company and a group of leaders from the garment industry at the time brought 2,500 survivors from the Holocaust to Canada. Klein says the company has jobs for them as soon as they got to the country.

“This is an amazing example of a business contributing to social change 70 years ago, directly through employment,” said Klein. “It’s something we can learn from today.”