For most of us, Labour Day is simply the final official long weekend of summer, the 11th hour before school resumes with all the mad-dash shopping that entails. Yet Labour Day has its roots in the labour union movement and the ensuing social justice that the hard-won movement engendered – arguably a more meaningful notion than which Converse style junior will be rocking in his grade 10 class. Is there any concrete, lasting meaning – social, economic, ethical – to Labour Day in 2014, especially among Canadian business?
Joyously, the answer appears to be yes. We survey five businesses whose strategies, advertising, corporate social responsibility or general deportment suggest a larger viewpoint than just the bottom line, in keeping with Labour Day’s original ethos.
- Principles in Advertising
Typically when companies advertise, the take-away is “use our product.” Not so for the LCBO, whose just-launched public education campaign about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and its related disorders seeks to discourage the estimated 30 percent of women of all educational levels and socioeconomic groups from boozing while pregnant. The campaign – complete with eye-popping in-store signage of expectant mothers, bellies bulging through the letter “O” in signs reading “Love,” “Hope” and “Joy” – supports an awareness campaign spearheaded by parents of a child with FASD to eradicate “the most expensive yet most preventable of all mental disorders in the industrialized world.” No arguing with that.
Honourable Mention: McDonald’s Canada "Our Food. Your Questions" social media campaign, which in 2012 publically took on some of the most revolting queries about the fast food giant’s processing practices (how livestock is treated and if the dreaded “pink slime” is present in its burgers, for example) with cool-headed transparency.
- Adapting, Not Importing
Buying local – and all the sustainability and product freshness that it promotes – needn’t begin and end with strawberries, garlic and steelhead trout. It extends to flowers too; just ask Natasa Kajganic, the young entrepreneur who last year founded the Toronto Flower Market which six times annually transforms a patch of Queen West into a Technicolor marketplace where blooms sourced from within the 416, 647 and 905 area codes vie for space in your bicycle basket. Inspired by and modeled after London’s Columbia Road Flower Market, which Kajganic discovered on a 2012 UK visit, the Market brings the beauty without the carbon footprint.
Honourable Mention: Toronto-based GreedyGiver.com, loosely based on U.S. crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo but with an emphasis on raising funds for charitable endeavours as well as new business ideas and creative projects. The site offers perks such as gift cards to fundraisers without deep connections to the marketing or entertainment worlds to help rev up their campaigns.
- Fervently Pursuing CSR
Most Canadian companies engage in some form of corporate social responsibility and we applaud them all, from TD Friends of the Environment Foundation to Shoppers Drug Mart’s WOMEN to Canadian Tire’s Jumpstart. But since we’re talking Labour Day – which cues back-to-school thinking – let’s give it up for OfficeMax Grand & Toy, and their eight year long relationship with non-profit Start2Finish, which assists Canada’s million-plus kids at or near the poverty line with (among other things) free backpacks stuffed with school supplies their families couldn’t otherwise afford. Not only does the office supply behemoth shake down its vendors for pens and notebooks, it donates tens of thousands of employee man-hours to stuff the backpacks – some 7,500 this fall alone.
Honourable Mention: A&W Canada (Cruisin’ to End MS) Tim Hortons (Camp Day), HBC Foundation (various fundraising programs including Canadian Olympic Foundation, Canadian Paralympic Committee, Habitat for Humanity Canada), Dairy Queen (Children's Miracle Network Hospitals) and countless others – you know who you are.
- Minding the Fauna
In a recent roundup of socially responsible corporations, Macleans Magazine cited Calgary’s Cenovus Energy Inc., noting that as part of an effort to restore 4,500 hectares of caribou habitat by 2015, “Cenovus installed cameras surrounding three Alberta operations to monitor caribou habitat and to limit its activities during sensitive migration and mating periods.”
Honourable Mention: Derek Burney, former Canadian ambassador to the U.S. and chief of staff to then prime minister Brian Mulroney, who donated 316 hectares of private land to the Nature Conservancy of Canada – the nation's leading non-profit, private land conservation organization – with the aim of promoting more robust cross-border moose breeding along the Nova Scotia-New Brunswick boundary by limiting development and human presence in the sensitive Chignecto Isthmus wildlife corridor. The fabulously named (and absolutely true) “Moose Sex Project” was born. Who says politicians don’t have a sense of humour?
- Promoting Canada, Eh?
Sure, Canada Goose has “Canada” in its name, but so does Canada Dry and it’s owned by a Texas-based conglomerate. What puts the true north strong and free into the winter apparel maker is what it does: employs Canadians in Canada where it is based, including the trappers catching the coyotes used in its fur trim collars. (The company claims it supports the "ethical, responsible and sustainable use of fur.”) And true to our nation’s aversion to celebrity, Canada Goose refuses to pay stars to wear their garb although stars do wear it, in notable numbers. The firm also has CSR covered via its sponsorship of Polar Bears International.
Honourable Mention: Roots Canada, which pretty much created the template for how “Made in Canada” is supposed to look. Forty years on, Roots is still one of the hippest brands on the planet and they’re not exactly slouches in the environmental conservation arena, either.
Happy Labour Day to all!