Bad news for all of us who are (were) Ikea meatball lovers. The Swedish company has had to withdraw this famous product from 21 European countries after officials in the Czech Republic found traces of horse DNA in a bag labelled as beef and pork. This is just the latest development in a series of scandals which have involved meat products sold by well-known brands such as Tesco, Findus, Birds Eye and Nestle. As consumers, we must ask ourselves whether we can trust the information on these products’ packaging. As PR practitioners we have to wonder… Were these companies too busy thinking about broader Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) tactics to worry about their supply chains?
If you visit the corporate websites for any one of the companies involved in the horse meat crisis, you’ll see that they have developed extensive CSR programs which show that these corporations are environmentally friendly, help the local communities in places where they operate and sponsor educational programs, among many others. For example, Ikea is considered to be environmentally friendly because it is a member of the Clean Cargo Working Group, the Forest Stewardship Council and the U.N.’s Global Compact Group. However, as a result of having incredibly elaborate supply chains, not understanding exactly how their products are made and where they come from, their CSR efforts may have been wasted. People form an idea of an organization based on what they are perceived to do, not necessarily on what they’re actually doing. This means that some meatballs could overshadow all of the furniture company’s good deeds, destroying the image they’ve worked hard to build.
What’s the point of implementing CSR programs if they’re not being responsible about their basic responsibilities towards their customers? Wouldn’t the potential lack of control over a long supply chain take precedence over other elements of CSR? Granted, horse meat doesn’t pose a health risk to whoever eats it. In truth, it’s supposed to be pretty healthy. But the fact remains that there is a lack of transparency regarding information on food packaging and where products are made, as noted by UKIP Paul Nuttall.
In response to this problem, several European agricultural ministers have vowed to create new regulations which will include the improvement of the labelling of meat products. However in the meantime, it is up to these companies to handle the crisis which has endangered their reputations and has challenged their customer’s trust. This has become an issue for the entire meat industry, as ground meat sales have decreased by 43%, affecting other brands and other suppliers.
Ikea, Tesco, Birds Eye and the rest have followed guidelines of best practice in responding to the crisis. They have admitted that there is a problem, they have taken action by removing contaminated products and have issued public apologies. They are now faced with trying to regain public trust, for which they should seriously consider redesigning their tactics and developing integrated CSR programs. This time, taking into consideration the invisible side of things as well as the window dressing elements.