Benetton goes from pointing a finger to lending a hand

Goodbye shock tactics? Benetton has marked its 50th anniversary with the launch of a five-year programme aimed at addressing issues rather than just raising awareness of them

Announcing the programme, along with four new Collections of Us clothing ranges supported by an ad campaign, at a major press event at its headquarters outside Treviso in north east Italy, Chief Product and Marketing Officer John Mollanger said that the company was changing from “pointing a finger” at the world’s problems to “actively trying to improve things… we have matured and the world has matured.”

Benetton’s Women Empowerment Program is a €2 million, five-year commitment aimed at supporting sustainable livelihoods for women in the garment industry. It was launched with a film showing men’s reactions to childbirth.

The program will begin in Asia with the first, Sustainable Livelihood, phase involving Benetton selecting suitable local partners to work with, which may include governments but also independent actors such as trades unions and other groups. The WEP, which has been set up in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, will initially focus on “activities aimed at achieving sustainable livelihood for women working in the RMG (Ready Made Garments) supply chain: training programs on gender issues, basic rights and economic sustainability for women and their families; microcredit and financial support activities; specific programs to be carried out in factories for female workers and their children; advocacy and communication on women’s rights,” the company says.

In a clear break with the Oliviero Toscani advertising that made Benetton both famous and notorious in the 90s, Mollanger said “In the 80s and 90s we ran social campaigns that were about pointing a finger at things that were wrong, which meant we talked about a lot of issues. Now we would like to concentrate on fewer problems and instead of just saying this is a problem, actually help to solve it.”

The Women Empowerment Program will be the mechanism for doing that. Speaking at Benetton’s Fabrica research centre, Worldwide Communication Director Gianluca Pastore said that “If we want to have influence we really have to work with those who are committed to solving these problems all over the world.” The €2million is, Benetton say, just an initial amount which, they acknowledged “is never going to solve every problem in the world”. What they hope to do is to set up replicable partnership models which others can follow. “Once we have selected our partners, we will launch specific programmes with set objectives” which will be independently monitored and measured over three and five years, Pastore explained. “We will use all our digital properties to report on what we are doing.”

In a commercial world that has leapt all over ‘brand purpose’ , egged on by ad agencies with more than half an eye on award wins, Mollanger reminded his audience that Benetton’s social awareness “isn’t something we woke up with yesterday, this is something we have had since day one”.

There was some disappointment among the assembled journalists that Benetton appears to have grown out of the shock tactics of Toscani’s heyday but, Pastore insisted, what the brand had always been about was trying to make people think. “That could be through provocation, or through engagement or just by committing ourselves,” he said. Benetton’s commitment to the WEP and the effect it may have on the wider garment industry and on the societies in which it operates could, he said “be the most provocative thing we have ever done”.

For more details on Benetton’s Women Empowerment Program, see here

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