CSR begins with men growing a conscience

Earlier this month at Mumbrella360, Scentre Group's customer experience director, Phil McAveety, spoke about Westfield malls as "living centres". Lyn Swanson Kennedy was angry. Collective Shout has been petitioning Scentre's CEO to stop Honey Birdette's "porn-themed window displays" for 18 months. Here, she tells CEOs like him that actions speak louder than corporate social responsibility value statements.

Earlier this month, Swati Bhattacharya took to the stage at Mumbrella360 with a very clear message to men: “Women have grown tired of waiting for them to grow a conscience”.

Within a few hours, at the same event, on a different stage, Scentre Group’s customer experience director, Phil McAveety, spoke on the transformation of Westfield malls into “living centres”. It was difficult for us at Collective Shout to ignore the irony. For 18 months, we have been petitioning Scentre Group’s CEO, Peter Allen, to put a stop to sex-shop Honey Birdette’s porn-themed window displays in its shopping malls – beg your pardon, “living centres” – to no avail. The petition has 72,000 signatures. Westfield certainly hasn’t taken cues from customers imploring it to grow a conscience.

Swati Bhattacharya on stage at Mumbrella360

Allen is not the only male CEO we have called upon to address this rampant sexism. We have also lobbied Lendlease, AMP Capital, Vicinity Centres, The GPT Group, Queensland Investment Corporation (QIC), Stockland, JLL and ISPT. We have asked how they can identify as “Male Champions of Change” – pledging to address sexism in their workplace – while facilitating sexism in their own properties as Honey Birdette’s landlords.

CSR has to be more than words

Scentre Group says “We put the customer first”; “We act with integrity”; ”We create a positive legacy”.

Lendlease’s values are “Respect, Integrity, Excellence, Trust; Sustainability”. They tell us their developments “deliver safe, accessible and culturally rich communities”.

QIC mandates that employees “always treat others fairly, with respect and dignity and not engage in behaviour which could constitute discrimination, victimisation, vilification, sexual harassment, other types of unlawful harassment or bullying”.

JLL tells us its team members “are building a better tomorrow for our clients, our people and our communities” and that its values are “teamwork, ethics and excellence”.

ISPT says “every project we undertake is about enhancing life within and around the built environment”. Its corporate values include “care in everything we do”.

Vicinity Centres’ purpose is “to enrich communities”.

AMP is committed to anti-slavery and human trafficking efforts. They take “appropriate steps to ensure anyone who works for AMP Capital, irrespective of their capacity or location works in an environment in which their fundamental rights and freedoms are respected”.

Stockland has been “creating and nurturing communities since 1952″.

The GPT Group commits to acting ethically and responsibly and to returning “value to our communities”.

None of these noble values and goals can ever be advanced while porn-inspired images of women sit on public display in their malls. These images harm women and girls and contribute to sexual harassment and violence against women.

Undermining equality and diversity goals

These companies have obvious double-standards. They want us to know that women in their boardrooms and office spaces are valued, respected and promoted, and for us to associate their brands with women’s advancement.

Meanwhile, their malls are notorious for hostility toward women. It’s a form of ‘pinkwashing’, similar to tobacco companies joining the fight against breast cancer while making and selling products that cause cancer. These companies present as good corporate citizens with special appeal to women, while endorsing the very behaviours that hold women back. It’s duplicitous.

Adding to irony, by housing Honey Birdette porn-themed shop windows, these companies directly undermine their efforts to advocate for women. It is counter-intuitive, for example, for Scentre Group to advocate for victims of domestic violence while legitimising the very type of imagery linked to attitudes that condone violence against women.

In its National Plan Fourth Action Consultation Summary Report, the Department of Social Services noted the recommendation of “challenging and countering the objectification of women in the media and popular culture”. If this recommendation is implemented, companies like Honey Birdette may at last be held to account for the harm they cause.

And the shopping centre companies that lease to them will have to acknowledge the part they have played.

Male Champions of Change brand harmed by double standards

Male Champions of Change (MCC) was established in 2010, headed up by former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Liz Broderick. Unfortunately, the brand has been brought into question by its members.

In a glaring display of double-standards, in March, Lendlease CEO and Property Group MCC Steve McCann attended the United Nations Conference on the Status of Women in New York. At a side event, he spoke on how companies can support and advocate for victims of domestic violence in the workplace. He was photographed holding an #empowerwomen placard. Meanwhile, his company’s malls house porn-style imagery, and he has ignored appeals from thousands of women to put a stop to it. This is a poor reflection on Male Champions who claim to be “stepping up beside women”.

CSR is not about words or hashtags. It’s not about programs or partnerships. It’s not about friends in high places. CSR is about the concerted efforts made by companies to ensure their conduct helps and doesn’t harm people.

Have these CEOs visited their shopping centres lately? Have they have seen mums hurry past, trying to shield their children, or heard – as we have – young men declare, “I’d like to fuck that”?

There is a clear choice for these companies. Either they truly uphold their CSR commitments and put a stop to public displays of porn-style imagery in their malls, or they continue to stand by Honey Birdette. There is no middle ground.

One thing is for certain: CSR begins with men growing a conscience.

Lyn Swanson Kennedy advises Collective Shout on CSR related matters


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