Havas B Corp status at risk following Shell appointment
The Drum understands B Lab is reviewing the implications of Havas’ appointment as Shell’s media buying agency following a spate of complaints.
B Lab has come under scrutiny for its stance on B Corp ad agencies working with fossil fuel clients / Shell
Havas winning the $27m Shell media account could have implications for the B Corp status of some of its agencies, as well as its ability to eventually have the whole group certified.
Havas currently has four subsidiaries that are certified B Corps – London, New York, Lemz and Immerse – meaning they meet the highest verifiable standard of ESG. However, the agency has been in the process of certifying across the UK.
Following Havas Media’s appointment as the media agency of record for oil giant Shell, B Lab (the body that grants accreditation) has told The Drum it is reviewing the implications of the account win as part of B Lab’s Public Formal Complaints Process.
It declined to share the total number of complaints it received.
A spokesperson told The Drum: “We are aware of the news that Havas (which has certified B Corp subsidiaries New York, London, Lemz, and Immerse) has apparently been appointed as the media buying agency for Shell. B Lab Global is currently reviewing the implications of this as part of B Lab’s Public Complaint Process.
We’re committed to following due process, and appreciate your patience as we follow the procedures we have in place.”
One client, the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative, has already terminated its relationship with agency Havas Red in light of the appointment.
B Corp’s fossil fuel stance
After news that Shell’s lucrative media account was up for review broke earlier this year, The Drum approached B Lab for its stance on whether B Corp accredited agencies (or those aspiring to be in the future) would be eligible for certification if they were to win the account.
At the time, B Lab’s executive director Chris Turner said: “B Lab has not stipulated the exact industries that B Corps cannot work with. That being said, if a company has clients in the fossil fuels, defense, firearms, gambling, hazardous materials, pornography, prisons or tobacco industries, then their eligibility for certification would be reviewed.”
When subsidiary agencies sharing a name with a parent company are certified, it triggers a process whereby the parent must certify in the future, Turner explained.
“As with any company looking to become a B Corp, when the parent goes for certification, if they are not meeting our standards (for example, material work with clients that operate in sensitive industries such as the fossil fuel industry), then the eligibility of the entire group for certification would be reviewed.”
A group of B Corp agencies led by the UK’s highest-ranking accredited agency, Good Agency, subsequently called for greater clarity from B Labs on certified agencies working with fossil fuel clients.
Good Agency founder and CEO, Chris Norman told The Drum: “We are very proud to be a part of this community and we want to rally the people within it to change the system from the inside but we need clarity. There can be no good from enabling and servicing these companies.”
Havas’ B Corp journey
Under UK CEO Xavier Rees, Havas London became the first major agency to certify as a B Corp back in 2018. It went on to certify in New York, Malaysia and the Netherlands.
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Rees spoke openly to The Drum earlier this year about the commercial and ethical benefits of B Corp status and said that the London office had previously turned down: “Very significant revenue opportunities in order to maintain our B Corp status.”
However, the decision to pitch for Shell’s media account – worth an estimated $27m – will have been made at the very highest global level.
The Drum approached the Havas group for comment on B Lab’s review but did not receive a response.