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Sustainability Agency Culture B Corp

Havas B Corp status at risk after Shell win and open letter triggers official probe

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By Sam Bradley | Senior Reporter

January 23, 2024 | 7 min read

B Labs to examine whether Havas agencies can retain B Corp status after winning Shell’s media account.

A Shell oil rig in the North Sea

B Lab is investigating Havas’ links to Shell / Shell

The B Corp status of four Havas agencies is under threat after B Labs confirmed it had launched a formal investigation.

The probe comes three months after an alliance of indie agencies penned a joint letter complaining that Havas winning Shell’s media account had rendered the agency network’s environmental certification untenable.

Four Havas shops, including its creative agencies in London and New York, currently hold B Corp certification, which shows a business has met “high standards of verified performance, accountability and transparency on factors from employee benefits and charitable giving to supply chain practices and input materials.”

But their sister company, Havas Media Group, has held the global media brief for Shell, one of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies, since last autumn.

In October, 26 fellow B Corp-certified agencies, together with industry climate change lobby group Clean Creatives, wrote to B Lab demanding that Havas’ agencies lose their status. Following an initial review, B Lab has announced it is investigating their allegations.

“Identifying and investigating allegations of misconduct or misrepresentation by B Corps is essential to maintaining the integrity and value of B Corp Certification and the formal public complaints procedure is an integral part of the review and verification process. We take this aspect of our work extremely seriously, including the importance of a thorough and objective investigation process,” a spokesperson told The Drum.

According to B Lab, the probe will look at whether working with Shell is compatible with the conditions of B Corp status, whether any of the companies made false statements when applying for the certification in the first place, and whether they have breached the “B Corp Community core values.”

It’s unclear how long the investigation might take. Duncan Meisel, executive director of Clean Creatives, said: “B Corps should not be producing marketing and PR for the world’s biggest polluters, and we are grateful to B Lab for continuing this investigation so that their many members who support serious climate action can be heard.”

A spokesperson for Havas New York, London, Lemz and Immerse subsidiaries declined to comment.

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B Corporation status is a coveted badge in the ad industry, signaling a serious commitment to sustainable and ethical business practices. Among other measures, companies must alter their articles of incorporation – the legal documents that declare their purpose as an enterprise – to reflect a commitment to responsible business practices over profit.

Acquiring the status can take over a year and implies an ongoing process – companies must show improvement in order to renew their certificate. B Lab guards the reputation of the scheme closely; Scottish beermaker Brewdog lost its status in December after an investigation into its treatment of workers.

This investigation could lead to the status of Havas’ agencies being revoked, suspended, or upheld with further conditions added for the future. It might also dismiss the original complaints out of hand.

The debate over Havas’ B Corp status hasn’t slowed enthusiasm for the certification among agency peers. Just this week, indie shop Cream confirmed it had acquired B Corporation status.

“B Corp status is more than just a statement of intent, it’s a statement of action and commitment,” said Cream’s boss, chief exec Neil Cunningham.

“We all care about advertising’s potential role in promoting positive social change, and this already influences the way we approach briefs for our clients… the B Corp process has helped us to quantify that, set goals and put tangible and meaningful plans in place.“

Havas’ critics worry that if the agency group is able to keep both Shell and B Corp status, the power behind the badge would diminish.

“Havas’ decision to make its B Corps a part of Shell’s misleading marketing is a clear threat to the integrity and brand of the B Corp movement,” said Meisel.

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