the truth about M&M’s commitment to inclusion
So we can agree that a company deciding to be more inclusive is generally a positive thing, right? And by “inclusive” I of course mean changing the shoes and eyelash length of a fictional character.
That was apparently M&M’s’ definition of inclusivity as well, when they announced a new look and feel of their characters (maybe you’ve seen the outrage of the green M&M floating around the internet?).
Now to be fair, it does look like Mars (the parent company of M&M’s) is planning to do more than just change how the brand looks. But of course, they didn’t mention any specifics about actual goals or timelines or accountability in their press release – the focus was on the change to aesthetics, and we all know how aesthetics are viewed around here!
“M&M’S®, part of the Mars, Incorporated portfolio of brands, has announced a global commitment to creating a world where everyone feels they belong, and society is inclusive. The iconic candy brand’s announcement is built on more than 80 years of bringing people together with its bite-sized colorful candies and flavors and is part of the evolved M&M’S brand’s strategy built on purpose, which promises to use the power of fun to include everyone, with a goal of increasing the sense of belonging for 10 million people around the world by 2025.”
^ Except that’s not a real goal tho. 🤣 Which 10 million people are you going to study? How are you even going to measure a “sense of belonging?” Is there a sense-of-belonging-ometer I don’t know about?!
“From new product innovations to brand campaigns, our evolved characters and our experiential retail stores, we’ll incorporate colorful visuals, inclusive messaging and our purpose into all we do to prove that all together, we’re more fun.”
Honestly, you should go read the whole press release just for the laugh. It’s just a contrived, corporate pile of bullshit word salad and you’ll see right through it.
But the worst part of this story is not that a huge company is exploiting a decent social movement for a diversion tactic and good PR (a tale as old as time!). It’s that Mars is currently facing a lawsuit for using child slave labor and trafficking to produce their cocoa in West Africa.
So here’s the gist (I make no claims of being a journalist, but this is what I gathered after going down the rabbit hole):
In 2001, Mars and a few other chocolate companies signed the Harkin-Engel Protocol, which basically stated “we’re gonna sorta try to reduce child labor in the cocoa industry by 2005 maybe” and – big surprise – there was little to no change by 2005. In fact, from the information I could find, it sounds like the deadline has been extended four times – the new deadline is 2025, and and the goal is to “reduce child labor by 70%.” NOT EVEN 100%. 😂
The blame is being deflected all over the place. To the consumer for buying chocolate, to the retailers for ordering so much chocolate, to the Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana governments for allowing child slave labor in the first place. But like YOU CAN’T JUST BLAME THE SUPPLY CHAIN WHEN YOU’RE KNOWINGLY PROFITING FROM SLAVE LABOR IN THE SUPPLY CHAIN.
I mean of course you can. This is America! Huge U.S. companies do it all the time! And what are they going to do, just shut down the company?! wHaT aBoUt tHe pRoFiT?!?
Because yup, it always comes down to profit. And that’s where we should feel so grateful for having small businesses – because we can make decisions in our business that are helpful instead of harmful. We can be ethical without sacrificing growth. We can be guided by our moral compass instead of by profit margins. We can quickly change business practices when we get new information. We can make money and make a difference.
“M&M’S is a chocolate brand on a mission. We believe in championing the power of fun to create a world where everyone feels they belong. Fun is not planned, it is found. (And, there is plenty to discover with M&M’S!) Fun can cross borders & boundaries, and can bridge differences & divides. Best of all, there is always more of it when you aren’t the only one having it. Our ambition is to upend the expected, break through barriers, and discover the little joys shared in everyday life. Imagine a world with less judgment & more connection & consistent laughter. Together, we can make this a reality for all funkind.”
^ That’s the statement you’ll see on the M&M’s website. But if you actually value fun and your mission is TRULY to create a world where everyone feels they belong, that must include the child slaves in Africa who are helping your privately-owned, for-profit business make money. 🙃
There’s such a great lesson for us in this case study: having brand values, articulating your brand values, talking about your brand values, posting your brand values on your website, or changing your aesthetic to represent your brand values is not the same thing as doing business by your brand values.
The choices you make in your business matter. As an entrepreneur you have so much potential to impact the world, directly and indirectly, positively and negatively. Choose wisely and choose boldly.