Sunday, 20 March 2011

Will Business make good on the new Responsibility Deals??

The Government's long mooted Public Health Responsibility Deals were launched last week, with around 150 companies and organisations signing up to take part. This sees those involved making voluntary pledges to take a more active role in improving the nation's health, addressing problem areas such as alcohol abuse and obesity.

All three sectors are represented, with areas of the NHS and charities, such as Drinkaware, participating alongside companies like Coca Cola, McDonalds and alcoholic drink manufacturers.

The inclusion of these latter, profit-driven corporations has brought scepticism from some parties, who fear their influence on policy making and doubt their sincerity. Put simply, when consuming less of their products would arguably bring the biggest improvement in public health, how can they be expected to support that, when they have a duty to their shareholders to make as much money as possible?

There's a simple answer to that question; selling less was never on the agenda and is nowhere to be found in the pledges.

Ok, to be fair there is mention of promoting sensible drinking and reducing under age drinking, which if effective, could bring less sales, but that's the only concession and one would hope that illegal sales are not a part of any company's strategy anyway.

When it comes to obesity, again the simple answer of selling less is out of the question. Instead, fast food chains and other retailers pledge to do more to promote physical activity. Their products will also have better labelling about their health content. Eating less may be the best solution to obesity, but that means less profits, so promoting exercise is preferred.

So overall, the best option was never really an option, but are the responsibility deals at least a step in the right direction?

As long as those involved pay more than lip service to the initiative, they could well be. As Public funding becomes tighter and tighter, having the huge marketing budgets of private companies available to promote Public Health messages, not to mention their expertise, could be a real help.

We discussed this in an article last year when the deals were initially announced, highlighting how the modern phenomena of openness, honesty and transparency is leading business to redefine how it presents itself. The Private Sector wants to be seen to care and to take it's share of responsibility for society.

This is happening anyway, regardless of any partnerships with Government, so it's likely that the companies will be looking to leverage their Responsibility Deals for maximum good PR. They will most likely exploit them for all they're worth, with a heavy emphasis on positive goals throughout their marketing.

Again, not necessarily the purest of motives, but if the end result is effective and far reaching campaigns, the likes of which are beyond the capabilities of a financially stretched Public Sector, then the outcomes may well be worth it.

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