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Individual Case Study No. 2
Ma Earth Skin Care Tries To Stay Natural, pp. 155-156
Heather Franklin is a marketing manager for Ma Earth Skin Care. Four years ago, when she was hired to help with the paperwork for promotional campaigns, she was thrilled to become a part of this company because she loved Ma Earth’s lotions, soaps, and cosmetics. Besides smelling heavenly and offering exquisite colors for eye shadow and lipstick, the products spoke to Heather’s values: Ma Earth promised to use all natural ingredients, sustainably grown or mined, and to operate with minimal adverse impact on the planet. So for Heather, going to work was almost like carrying out a mission, promoting both beauty and concern for the planet’s well-being. No doubt, her commitment and enthusiasm helped pave the way when the position of marketing manager opened up.
Currently, Heather and her team are preparing a promotional campaign for a new product line, Oré Essentials, which includes lipsticks, foundation, and eye shadows tinted with a plant extract called orellana. The exciting feature of Oré Essentials is that orellana is harvested deep in the Amazon rain forest, and because of its sustainable practices, Ma Earth will obtain this special ingredient in a socially responsible manner. The company set up a contract with a tribe living in a remote village. The people of the tribe are supposed to grow and harvest the orellana, which is naturally part of the area’s ecosystem, and Ma Earth has promised to pay a fair price to the whole tribe so the people can use the money to maintain their village and their way of life. Consumers will get a beautiful product and the pleasure of knowing that they are helping preserve an endangered ecology—and an endangered way of life for the rain forest people.
But when Heather sat down for a meeting with the photography crew that traveled to the village, some concerns began to surface. She was looking at stunning photos of tribe members arrayed in grass skirts as they stood behind a pile of fruit from the orellana tree. As she was selecting her favorite shots, one of the photographers commented that the translator had made some surprising remarks on the return trip from the village. Apparently the pile of orellana fruit had been gathered just for the photo shoot. The tribe doesn’t really bother with growing and harvesting orellana; the people of this area aren’t primarily farmers, and there aren’t actually many orellana trees within a day’s walk of the village. The first year they had tried selling orellana page 156to Ma Earth, they grew only enough to earn a few hundred dollars, not really worth the effort. Heather felt confused by these statements and planned to take a closer look at spending on her product later that day.
Hours later, when the other employees had gone home, Heather finally had a chance to spend some time researching her product on the company’s employee website. She found purchasing transactions for “orellana/annatto,” and after a little research learned that under either name, the product is just an inexpensive dye. Under the latter name, it is used as a common food coloring. It turns out that Ma Earth made most of its purchases from a mainstream supplier, which is cheaper than persuading remote villagers to provide orellana.
That evening Heather went home feeling betrayed and upset. The next day she asked her boss, the divisional vice president, why the company pretended to care about a remote village if it was just a front for a brand. Heather’s boss, Megan McDonough, said, “But we do care! We send them tens of thousands of dollars every year. Sure, they don’t actually grow that stuff for us, but they could, and we’ll buy it if they do. Anyway, our aid has provided a school and a health clinic, not to mention food and clothing. We’ve helped the tribe members stay healthy and preserve their language and culture.”
Heather considered what Megan said. “So,” she asked, “does this mean we’re using their culture to build an image for our brand, and in exchange, they get money from us to keep that culture alive?” She thought about the traditional designs the marketing department had copied from the tribe as decorations for the Oré Essentials packaging.
Megan nodded encouragingly. “That’s exactly what I’m saying. It’s a win–win situation.” Heather felt relieved but not quite sure that her original idealism would withstand her deeper knowledge of how Ma Earth defined its mission.
1.What ethical issues is Heather facing in this situation? What possible marketing claims about the company’s relationship with the Amazonian tribe would cross a line into unethical territory? What claims could it make ethically?
2.How could Ma Earth create an ethical climate that would help managers such as Heather ensure that they are behaving ethically?
3.How effectively do you think Ma Earth is practicing corporate social responsibility in this situation? Explain the reasoning behind your evaluation.