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mba diary

Salomé Thériault is studying the corporate social responsibility practices of Levi Strauss for her Laval MBA thesis.BEN MARGOT/The Associated Press

Salomé Thériault is an MBA student at Laval University in Quebec City, specializing in marketing. The 22-year-old Acadian from New Brunswick did her undergraduate studies at Mount Allison University in English but opted to take her MBA at Laval partly to return to her mother tongue. Along with her full-time studies, Ms. Thériault is volunteering as an agent with the university's Trade Missions, a not-for-profit organization that gives companies across Quebec an opportunity to develop their businesses in an international setting. This is her sixth blog post in a series.

With the first year of my MBA complete, it's time to get going with my thesis so that I can complete school and start working as soon as possible. Being a marketing student and having a strong interest in fashion, I wanted to study something interesting in that field.

For the past couple of months I've been questioning the ethics of the fashion industry – and business in general. Multinationals can do great things, for the economy as well as for the communities where they operate. However, one must still be aware of the cons and know that ethics are sometimes broken. The "fast fashion" industry has always been filled with controversy and debate, but it is still fascinating since it is scrutinized by so many and consumed by those same people. Fast fashion can be wonderful since it allows the middle class to access the latest trends at affordable prices. Yet, by looking more closely at the industry, there is nothing fabulous about fast fashion. The industry is one of the leading violators of child labour regulations and sweatshops and encourages blind consumption. The industry also uses abundant amounts of water as well as many chemicals and detergents, which greatly harm our environment.

With all this said, there is still some positive outlook for the industry. Researchers claim that corporate social responsibility, or CSR, practices are beneficial for firms in fast fashion. Moreover, eco-innovative firms do exist, merging social and environmental initiatives with their business interests. Frameworks to evaluate a firm's conduct in the apparel industry also exist. All of which led to me wanting to study how fast fashion companies communicate their CSR initiatives. And with some research, I chose to put empirical focus on Levi Strauss & Co.

Being active in CSR has great effects on society. For example, corporations can be involved in voluntary hazard elimination in order to take full responsibility for the harm caused by their production. They also can be involved in community development, in order to give communities a better environment in which to live and work, and philanthropy.

There are many ways for corporations to communicate their CSR initiatives to the stakeholders. These include corporate advertising, media relations, financial communications, employee relations, community relations, corporate philanthropy, government relations, crisis communication, cause promotions, cause-related marketing, corporate social marketing and socially responsible business practices. It is also interesting how CSR, marketing and public relations are so greatly linked through all initiatives.

As for Levi Strauss & Co., a CSR pioneer in the fast fashion industry, the company was one of the first to withdraw in some countries because of their ethical violations (the company even suspended its business in China for some time). This influenced many others in the industry such as Nike Inc., J.C. Penney Co. Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Over the past 60 years, Levi's has provided more than $270-million in more than 1,000 communities around the world. The company is also active in cause promotions, cause-related marketing and corporate social marketing with campaigns such as World Water Day and AIDS prevention. Even recently, Levi's chief executive officer Chip Bergh recommended consumers not wash their jeans often for the sake of the environment.

So much more can be said on CSR, CSR communication, Levi's, and other companies in the industry. However, I thought I would share with you at least some of the highlights of my thesis because I think that CSR is important and not only does good for society and the environment, but can also provide a competitive edge to those corporations that are actively involved. As former Levi's CEO Walter Haas Jr. said, "Each of us has a capacity to make business not only a source of economic wealth, but also a force for social and economic justice."