In the past we have raised issues around CSR activities of automotive, steel, plastic, and toy companies. In this piece we turn our attention to the FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) industry with a focus on their approach women and children related issue.
India is undeniably an important future growth market of the world (it has the 4th largest gross domestic product or GDP in the world on Purchasing Power Parity basis), it is young (it has 450 million people below the age of 21) and it is just beginning its consumption journey.
FMCG companies understand the importance of this market and have launched a slew a products to address this quickly expanding customer base. To influence purchase a large segment of TV and print advertising is targeted towards Indian women and children – the key decision makers and influencers. Though FMCG is often seen as an urban-focussed industry, its large markets are in the hinterland. And its key influencers have to be seen in the context of both urban and rural/small-town setting.
While women and children are definitely consumers, they are also the marginalised section in many areas. Women are still struggling for recognition as equals in almost all areas – education, healthcare, equal pay to name a few. According to the WEF Global Gender Gap Report 2013 India ranks135 in The “Health & Survival” Index and comes in the category of lowest ranked countries. It also continues to be the lowest ranked of the BRIC economies. India is amongst many other countries that have both large education gender gaps as well as economic ones.
Children too are a much feted consumer group by FMCG companies, and India is home to the largest number of children in the world. The well-being of children in terms of health, nutrition, education and protection is not only dependent on the extent and quality delivery (or access) of services but also on the knowledge, attitude and behaviour of the mother. In India child mortality & health, child malnutrition, water, sanitation, and hygiene remain huge issues that need urgent attention.
We asked the question: how do FMCG companies look at their key constituents? We looked at 32 companies in the FMCG sector – covering both marquee brands as well as smaller brands with large appeal. A sample of 32 companies across a range of industries was selected and we studied their websites and GRI reports to understand their approach towards women and children.
Out of the total sample of 32 companies we find that only 18 companies have initiatives that focus on Women and Children.
5 companies are doing health & hygiene related activities.
4 companies have activities that focus on Child Malnutrition.
5 companies are doing activities that support education and related activities.
5 companies focus on empowering women through skill upgradation and capacity building programs.
– FMCG companies focus less significantly on their key influencer segment.
– Lack of strategic focus – while companies promote products to the key influencers they pay little attention to them in beyond the sale transaction. Without this link companies will not be fully engaged lack a credible relationship women and children. Further, the efforts are piecemeal rather than integrated.
Most of these activities tend to be initiatives that seem to run for a short time. The need of the hour is for companies to devise long term CSR strategies and their implementation needs to be sustained. For example, Coca Cola India has started a global initiative named ‘5by20’. The commitment is to enable the economic empowerment of 5 million women entrepreneurs across the company’s value chain. Similarly Himalaya’s Jagriti program focuses on raising awareness for women’s health and aims to educate women on common health problems and the available solutions.
When we look at initiatives for children, some examples include Heinz India’s NutureMate Program that focuses on providing Micronutrient powders to 15000 children across various villages in India. Reckitt Benckiser through one of its brand Dettol did a Healthy Hand Wash Programme that reached more than 14,000 school children in 65 cities with vital hygiene messages.
There are pressing issues in India, which need immediate attention like Awareness on HIV/Aids, Mother & Child, Maternity, Domestic Violence, Rape, Child Labour and Gender Superstitious Myths etc. A number of these areas are already covered under the new CSR rules. There is a opportunity for FMCG brands to devise CSR strategies around some of these issues and help improve the health, survival, education scenario for women and children. This opportunity is reinforced by the mandatory CSR spend requirements.
FMCG companies need to look beyond a customary handshake with its key influencers and decision makers. There are clear long term benefits from engaging and supporting long term platforms for genuine impact.
The big question is: are brands ready to explore and change this?
Article coauthored with Utkarsh Majmudar and originally published in Economic Times.