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Be a good corporate citizen through socially responsible business values

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Running the Montreal Marathon and taking two weeks of his vacation to help farmers in Mali—that’s what Jean Gattuso has done, among other things, to help Industries Lassonde be what he calls a “good corporate citizen.”

The CEO of this Quebec flagship enterprise, particularly known for its Oasis brand juices, refuses to do things the easy way.

In his opinion, companies have to earn the title of “socially responsible.” Signing cheques in front of an audience and offering products as sponsorships so as to look good mean very little to him.

“It’s part of our mission. We’re a company that sells healthy products and promotes health and wellness,” explains Jean Gattuso, who is President and CEO of A. Lassonde and Chief Operating Officer of Industries Lassonde. The Rougemont company employs 1,300 people in four Canadian provinces, including 700 in Quebec.

Lassonde invests over $1 million a year in donations and sponsorships. It helps nearly 400 organizations and other institutions, mainly in the regions where it has facilities. “We receive over 3,000 requests a year,” says Jean Gattuso.

Health, education, social assistance

The agri-food giant has targeted three sectors where it wants to make a difference: Health, education, and social and humanitarian assistance.

In health, it is involved intensively in sports, both in the community and within the company.

A company nurse is on duty five days a week at the company’s head office in Rougemont. A new physical fitness room was set up above one of the two Rougement plants and a kinesiologist works there full-time.

Since 2003 Lassonde has been the main sponsor of the Montreal Oasis Marathon. Of course, the company’s trademark is prominently displayed.

But this visibility seems to be well deserved, since nearly 15% of Lassonde’s employees in Quebec participate in one of the event’s many routes (from 1 to 42 km). Jean Gattuso ran the entire marathon in 2003. Since then he has run the half-marathon every year.

In the education field, the public company recently invested in renovation of the performance hall at CÉGEP Édouard-Montpetit in Longueuil.

It also provided financial assistance for construction of an indoor skating rink at the sports centre of Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf, where Jean Gattuso was educated. In both cases, Lassonde or Oasis is part of the official name.

Discretion

But Lassonde also knows how to be discreet-for example, when it donates products to various food banks. Or when a corporate executive is invited by the Centre for International Studies and Cooperation (CECI) to help entrepreneurs in Africa.

Before sending one of the members of his team to Mali, Jean Gattuso went there himself. He ended up taking two weeks of his vacation to explain the basics of marketing to mango and shea butter producers.

During his stay in Mali he also met a team of surgeons from Sainte-Justine Hospital, who had come there to operate on children born with a cleft lip, a congenital malformation.

On his return, Mr. Gattuso decided to provide financial support for this medical mission, part of “Africa Smiles.”

Adopting a social mission

Lassonde’s social mission began in the early 90s, when the agri-food giant was surveyed by Tel-Jeunes.

For the past 20 years the telephone number—and now the Internet address—of this helpline has appeared on Lassonde juice containers. As a result, Lassonde today supports hundreds of thousands of young people who have seen the Tel-Jeunes number.

And as Jean Gattuso puts it, Lassonde won’t be stopping its corporate citizenship any time soon.

“Requests for assistance are increasing from year to year because, unfortunately, our governments are disengaging,” he says. “We have a business mission with our shareholders, but we also have a mission as a corporate citizen.”

Philanthropy or free publicity?

What is a company going after when it decides to be socially responsible-as a patron of the arts, by philanthropy or by going green, for example? Is it really to help others or just to get free publicity?

Thierry Pauchant of HEC Montréal invites people to sharpen their reflexes to separate the wheat from the chaff.

“A Stanford University study shows that about 10% of corporate attempts at social responsibility are really sincere. That means that 80% to 90% of them are not,” says the Professor with the Department of Management and Chairholder in Ethical Management at HEC Montréal.

This does not justify a witch hunt he says, because a $5 million donation to a hospital, whether it is sincere or not, is still a donation that will benefit the recipient. We should be able to distinguish sincerity from opportunism. In short, we should not denounce for the sake of denouncing, but neither should we over-idealize.

In his opinion, corporate social responsibility is not simply a matter of handing over an enormous cheque. “It’s the easiest thing to do and besides, it’s tax deductible,” the management professor says ironically.

“But paying employees to donate 10 hours of their time per month to an organization of their choice seems sincere to me. It implies that the employee is opening up to other horizons. This directly affects the organization’s culture, rather than its image. It is also a way to increase employee motivation,” he adds.

The same is true for companies where the employees are directly involved in organizing an activity, like a marathon, a benefit show, etc.

Scattering

Prof. Pauchant also urges people to be suspicious of companies that resort to scattering, making donations right and left, simply to look good to their target clienteles. This approach is often the work of public relations managers, he says scornfully.

He gives an example of automobile manufacturers marketing hybrid cars that are equipped with six or eight-cylinder engines. “That’s an oxymoron! How can you claim that a high-powered car is environmentally friendly? They’ll say any old thing! It’s smoke and mirrors!”

Thierry Pauchant and Laurent Fontaine have published a book on 36 ways to be ethical at work: 36 façons d’être éthique au travail. This multimedia publication is based on 130 radio interviews that Fontaine and Pauchant conducted with different leaders (CEOs, administrators, entrepreneurs, professionals, etc.). The book describes 36 real cases of social responsibility.

Reprinted from la Presse and translated by BDC with permission.


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