I’m not qualified, at this point, to judge the decision by U.S. retailers Walmart, Gap and others to refrain from signing the European Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. I can see two points of view here—and the topic needs to be vetted thoroughly.

There is a good lesson, however, in the situation that drove the Accord: Crisis communication isn’t just about how to communicate in a crisis—it’s about having the policies and procedures in place—prior to an event—that will help to protect the company’s reputation should such an incident occur.

Falling under the broader category of Reputation Management, a company should outline all of its vulnerabilities and conduct an audit to ensure it is doing everything possible to mitigate those potentialities. For example:

  • Do companies producing products in factories in less-developed nations have a thorough building inspection process and no-tolerance policy for non-compliance? Where is it written?
  • Do companies who can affect the environment have a country-by-country sustainability doctrine and a code of ethics about how it will conduct itself?
  • Do companies marketing to consumers have a social media policy that clearly outlines consequences if an employee posts offensive remarks on the company’s Facebook page?
  • Do public companies have a policy prohibiting financial conflicts of interest by key leadership?

It is critical today to not only have a plan for communicating, but an infrastructure that supports an ethics-based organization in every area. If companies do not, they will hear about it. Never before have consumers had a platform for activism like today’s social media channels, and consumers have proven they will readily use these channels to express their displeasure on a global stage.

Consumers want to purchase from companies that are good corporate citizens, that care about the environment, and certainly that care about employees and suppliers like those in Bangladesh.

At AKHIA, we help companies maintain their image, no matter what transpires. We have an audit that provokes companies to think proactively about their policies and procedures as part of our Crisis Communications Planning. The fact is, regardless of the scale of crisis you may face, you simply cannot “put lipstick on a pig” and hope it all blows over—it is essential to have a comprehensive plan for responding tactfully to the crisis and for moving on afterward.