Wednesday, September 23, 2009

How's this for Renault's Corporate Social Responsibility?

When in 2002 the Benetton Formula One team morphed into Renault it was clear that what the French car giant was seeking to do was to secure brand value from the move, in return, of course, for funding. Constructors' and Drivers' championships in 2005 and 2006 will undoubtedly have given the brand a major boost and whilst it is never easy to draw a direct and quantified line between success of this sort and brand equity there can be little doubt that Renault's substantial investment will have paid off. But the recent revelations about what Simon Barnes of The Times called "…worst single piece of cheating in the history of sport" will not just have damaged Renault's F1 credibility beyond repair but also have done almost irreparable damage to the corporate brand as well. Let's see why.

Like most major corporations Renault trumpets loudly its commitment to "Corporate Social Responsibility" (CSR). Here is what they say on their website:

"Renault maintains relations with a wide range of stakeholders, including customers, suppliers, local communities and residents, associations, and international organisations… These relations are based on two guiding principles: dialogue and transparent, loyal behaviour. Renault’s commitment also extends to the key social issues linked to the automotive industry, such as sustainable mobility and road safety (sic), and to initiatives for civil society."

Fine words, albeit words that are easy for a skilled copywriter to craft. Much more difficult of course is to walk the talk - to actually put into practise what you say you believe in. Major corporations can always be tripped up by determined investigators who can usually find some Achilles heel where practices don't match up to the high ideals of its stated CSR policy. But in Renault's case this was not some quiet little known business where standards were slipping - it was one of the most visible manifestations of the corporate brand - Formula One.

Now it may be that the big chiefs of Renault feel that they had in a way contracted out the running of the Renault F1 team to Flavio Briatore and that their big corporate hands are squeaky clean. Briatore has been banned from F1 activities indefinitely, and Pat Symonds, the former chief engineer has been suspended from the sport for five years. They even feel that they are clear to continue with their F1 involvement with their reputation untarnished because the World Motor Sport Council has only given the team a suspended sentence - in effect no punishment at all.

But if CSR does mean anything at all surely Renault at the very top must accept that this has been a shocking breach of their CSR policy by one of the most visible parts of their empire? It is reasonable to ask whether Renault's CSR commitment to transparency and to road safety applied to their F1 team. If it did then how to they feel now? And if it didn't then surely it should have!

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