Ethical festivities: Aligning your company’s values with its gifting this Christmas

Posted on September 27, 2022 by Megan Goodfield

As a PA, when it comes to choosing the right corporate gifts for colleagues and clients, there’s a lot to consider. Do the gifts offer enough breadth of appeal to suit everyone’s tastes and backgrounds? Will they reflect well on the company, in terms of quality? Are they affordable without feeling cheap, and luxurious while feeling accessible? 

There’s another key factor to consider – something that, until recently, may not have registered as a potential issue: does the supplier of your gifts align with your company’s corporate values? Are you, in other words, giving ethical gifts to your colleagues and clients? 

Here’s why that matters: Empowered by the internet and driven by a growing awareness of ethical business practices, your colleagues and clients are paying closer attention than ever to how your company conducts itself.

“Unfortunately, when it comes to companies that we’re associated with, bad news tends to travel faster and further than good news,” says Anna, a PA working with the directors of a leading UK telco. “So with my colleagues and my peers at other companies, they’re always more interested in asking me about suppliers and customers with less-than-stellar reputations. It’s just natural human curiosity to want to hear about more ‘scandalous’ companies.”

Anna says that her business does have links with one company in particular that, due to its controversial past, has created some internal unrest. “I’ve got colleagues who’ve read things about this company that have been disseminated via social media and, yes, that led to some objections being raised about us signing up to work with them. 

“Our company had its own issues a few years back that were widely reported in the press. That was some time ago now, but internally it still feels very fresh; it still feels like a big deal. So we’re very hot on managing perceptions and not wanting to create any further negative feelings around the company. Even minor issues are dealt with very swiftly now.”

Anna is keen for her company to experience the ‘halo effect’ of working with notably ethical brands. “I do think it would be good for our image – both externally and internally – for us to partner up with a brand that’s very well-respected in terms of, say, sustainability. And on a deeper level, we could take away so many learnings from that relationship, and spark positive discussions within the business around our own sustainability efforts – which is something I’m quite passionate about. A partnership like that creates interest, excitement and momentum within the business.”

This relationship between a business, its suppliers and its image extends to Christmas gifting, too. Your company could have an unimpeachable reputation with regards to corporate social responsibility, but that reputation may take a knock if the gifts and incentives given to colleagues and customers are sourced from a business with a dubious track record.

Just as aligning with a notably ethical organisation can provide a ‘halo effect’ and make your brand appear switched-on and good-hearted, working with a widely maligned supplier may cause your brand to appear a little behind-the-times. So when sourcing your gift supplier, here are a few areas to consider:

  • Does its supply chain negatively impact human rights, e.g. is it in any way associated with modern slavery?
  • Does the supplier have a transparent sustainability policy, and seek to avoid causing environmental damage wherever possible? 
  • Does the supplier behave ethically with regards to animal welfare? 
  • Does the supplier have forward-thinking diversity and inclusion policies? Any negative stories in this regard have a good chance of spreading far and wide across social media.  
  • Does the supplier give back to communities and/or charities? If it doesn’t, that won’t be a red flag for most colleagues and clients – but it’s certainly a major plus-point if it does.  

As a PA, by ensuring that your gift supplier behaves in a manner that your colleagues and clients would be happy to openly endorse, you can sidestep the risk of those gifts inadvertently doing more harm than good. Reap the benefits, avoid the backlash, and keep your gift recipients happy and guilt-free.

You can learn about M&S’ own environment, social and governance (ESG) strategy here.