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Don't omit the difficult issues

By Elaine Cohen (BeyondBusiness) on March 02, 2009 at 10:13am.

Content: 

Overall Cadbury's have produced a great report disclosing significant progress across many issues: in sourcing such as the Cocoa Partnership to support Ghanaian cocoa farmers , environment energy and emissions reductions, and outstanding community investment at 1.5% of pretax profits. Cadbury's Sustainability Pyramid and approach to CR management clearly position the Cadbury intent and commitment. A Materiality Matrix shows food safety as the number 1 issue, health nutrition and obesity as number 2 and financial performance as number 3, of a total 15 material issues which cover the spectrum of what I would be expecting a major confectionery manufacturer to report about. The report contains full detail of Cadbury’s business principles which relate to interactions with all stakeholders. And then there are the usual sections covering some of the material issues, and marketplace, workplace, community and environmental impacts.  All clearly presented. The Performance Indicator Section provides very transparent detail relating to each of Cadbury's performance areas, progress against targets set and new targets. Very detailed, though the prime focus is what was done (input) and not how Cadbury impacted (results/outcomes).  The report is structured in sections but there are no page numbers. Who stole the page number s? I love page numbers.

Communication:

This report is a fantastic piece of communication. I don’t often run out of superlatives but Cadbury's really take the cake (or should I say chocolate?) on this one. The report starts with a kind of executive summary which covers background and approach. When you get to page 16 you find the Contents of the main report. This means that you can get a quick overview of everything before getting to the detail. The report is written in a clear, plain style which I feel sure will appeal to all reader categories. I would have liked to see a linkage between the materiality index and the content of the report – for instance, I would expect to see a detailed section on food safety, Cadbury's number 1 material issue. But no. There is an assertion that Cadbury has taken many actions to improve food safety including recruitment of experts and better HACCP procedures,  but this leaves me feeling that there is something missing. Like, great, but what have they REALLY DONE ? Number 2 issue, obesity, fares a little better – a more comprehensive section on measures to improve nutritional values and labeling, together with the marketing message ‘Be Treatwise’. I miss some form of result or outcome –the impact of all this work (which began over 2 years ago). How many people actually sit down and calculate the GDAs (Guidelines for Daily Amounts – refers to the vitamins, minerals and things which are in a food product). I mean, last time I munched my way through a bar of Dairy Milk, the absolute last thing I thought about was calculating what I was doing to my GDAs. 

Credibility:

This report is a self-declared GRI application level ‘B’. Cadbury indicate they report on GRI indicator EC1 – which is a disclosure of the distribution of economic benefit to stakeholder groups – but in fact there is not a full disclosure. This is why I have a problem with self-declared reporting levels. It's too easy to misunderstand or cut corners. An assurer would not have let this pass. If a company wishes to report at a certain GRI application level, then why not get verification that their report reports what it says it reports?

Cadbury didn’t assure. Instead they included a statement from Forum for the Future – a pat on the back sort of thing. Whilst I have the greatest respect for FfF, their statement reads like a tribute designed to make Cadbury people feel good … " The good news is that Cadbury is making excellent progress….  We are pleased that Cadbury is trying to influence not just its employees, but also its customers, consumers and suppliers. We are confident that Cadbury has moved well beyond traditional notions of Corporate Responsibility into sustainable value creation." This doesn’t add credibility as far as my greenwash-sensitized eye is concerned.

Finally, perhaps I am not being fair but I can't help recalling that Cadbury was fined big money  in 2007 for failing to disclose a factory contamination issue occurring in 2006 which led to 42 people becoming sick with salmonella poisoning (see http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/6900467.stm ). This was glossed over in the Cadbury 2006 report with a vague mention of a product recall, and there is no mention of this in the 2007/2008 report. Another example of a difficult issue is the 5 fatalities that occurred in 2008. That's quite a number. Lost Time Accident rate fell significantly as a result of improved attention to workplace safety but 5 people died. Surely this should have merited a little more than half a line, with some detail needed about how these fatalities occurred and specific actions taken. I would like to see Cadbury being a little bolder about disclosing obviously painful issues and detailing the procedures implemented to prevent recurrence. This, I feel,  is the essence of good reporting and building credibility.

Recommendations

1. Please include page numbers in the next report
2. Assure the report
3. If you use GRI, get an external check on the application level
4. Report the difficult issues, not only the easy ones

 

Elaine Cohen is the Joint CEO of BeyondBusiness Ltd, www.b-yond.biz, a leading CSR reporting and consulting firm in Israel,  specializing in a wide range of consulting services for the development of social and environmental responsibility of businesses.