October 2005

KATE MOSS – A MODEL FOR Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)?


Ivor Hopkins
Director, online MHC International Ltd.

Monthly Feature: Kate Moss – a Model for CSR?

1. Background:

Kate Moss, illness a Super Model is filmed recently on a mobile ‘phone, viagra apparently snorting cocaine in the company of her singer boyfriend (and others): a picture of this makes its way to the front page of The Daily Mirror, a British tabloid. Her clients, major fashion houses like Chanel, H&M and Burberry, either cancel their contracts with her or state that they will not be renewing them. Her reputation is badly tarnished and she makes a public apology. With the authorities now interested in her possession of illegal substances and questions being raised about her suitability as the single mother of a two year old, she states that she takes complete responsibility for her actions and checks into a rehabilitation clinic in the US.

“DRUGGIE KATE’S A MODEL IDIOT” screams Carole Malone in The Sunday Mirror:

She doesn’t think she’s sick – she thinks she’s the coolest chick on the planet. She believes that, even though she’s off her head most nights, she’s still totally in control. She even believes that after three-day benders where she passes out in her own vomit she can still juggle her multi- million contracts with A-list companies like Chanel, Burberry and Dior.

Which just shows what a deluded little fool she has become. Does Moss actually believe pictures of her snorting big fat lines of coke and stumbling out of hotel rooms looking wrecked is the kind of image Chanel wants to promote its products? When they signed her up they bought an icon, not the out-of- control idiot she is now.

My initial reaction to the breaking story was similar: she has gone too far, broken the law and the subsequent loss of her contracts really does serve her right. The Observer, though, gave me a different angle:

In the ongoing tabloid-led witch-hunt, it is worth remembering that the Myth of Moss was created and sustained by us – the media and the public – and that she is an icon because we made her one. No matter how much we might have willed it, though, she was never a role model in the accepted sense. Burberry knew that. Chanel knew that. Rimmel knew that. They hired her for her edge and her outlaw cool as much as for her good looks and her sex kitten allure. In short, they too bought into the Myth of Moss in all its chemical potency.

Further, when you then know that her biography is entitled Kate Moss: Model of Imperfection then you can see that double standards are at work here which puts the response of the main companies she worked for, as well as the response from the media, in a different light.

Would things have turned out differently for Kate Moss if Corporate Social Responsibility had been at play? And if CSR principles are brought to bear on the main players in this sorry drama, is there anything that we can learn from it? Using Michael Hopkins’ definition of CSR that “CSR is the integration of business operations and values whereby the interests of all stakeholders including customers, employees, investors, the community, and the environment are reflected in the company’s policies and actions“, let’s have a look at the key players in turn:

1. the companies who pay to support and use Kate Moss’ beauty and celebrity status;

2. the print media who report and comment on stories like this;

3. Government legislation which makes cocaine illegal;

4. consumers, like us, of both fashion and the news;

5. Kate Moss, the Fashion Icon with feet of clay.

2. The Fashion Companies

H&M cancelled its contract with Kate Moss. The company has a code of conduct, which supports the fight against drugs through Mentor, and has a CSR Report 2005 that states in the communication and marketing section:

The models portrayed in our advertisements should be healthy and wholesome. H&M actively chooses not to work with models who are too young or too thin, or models suffering from eating disorders or drug or alcohol abuse.

This is a clear statement and they made a clear decision. The only niggle that I have is that, given Kate Moss’ history and wild child image, why did they hire her as a face in the first place?

Burberry Group PLC is one of a group of companies owned by GUS who have a CR Report for 2005, although it is not specific to Burberry and not mentioned on the Burberry website. In the GUS CR Report 2005 they mention the importance of “sharing a set of values that mean something to us” but I could not find a list or further exploration of these values. They are obviously following a CSR strategy so their decision on Kate Moss would seem to make sense.

Chanel: is a privately owned company and I could find no reference to any CSR activity, codes of ethics or codes of values. An image that is highlighted on their website is the camelia, which is underlined as having radiance and purity, so this is something of a clue. In the media, they stated that they are not extending their contract with Kate Moss but were careful to point out that this was unrelated to drugs. In an interview with the German weekly magazine Focus, Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel‘s chief designer is, in a very gentlemanly way, protective of Kate Moss:

Personally, I am very sorry about this affair. Kate is a victim of her success, her style, and of her timelessly modern uniqueness. She never said she would be a paragon of virtue….Kate simply has more courage, is freer, more open and more spontaneous than the others

Rimmel (Coty Beauty): Kate Moss is very much their cosmetic face, as their website shows and the information states:

The instinctive understanding between Kate Moss & Rimmel has evolved into one of beauty’s most potent partnerships

This means that they have a much more difficult business decision:

In light of this statement and Kate’s determination to address these issues, Coty Beauty is currently reviewing its relationship with her and will continue to do so, read the company’s statement. “We would like to express our support for all those who undertake the often difficult process of overcoming their problems,” it added.

That they are supportive of someone in a difficult personal situation speaks well for the company. In the absence, though, of any obvious guidance or sets of values they might be well advised to address this. A start would be to use the Texas Instruments Ethics Quick Test:

· Is the action legal?

· Does it comply with our values

· If you do it, will you feel bad?

· How will it look in the newspapers?

· If you know it is wrong, don’t do it!

· If you are not sure, ask

· Keep asking until you get an answer

And any CEO that embraces CSR as a whole will have a healthy conscience and a good reputation.

3. The media

The Sunday Mirror was especially virulent about Kate Moss: is this what their shareholders wanted, given failed legal action against Moss in the 90s or is it a standard reaction that they know will appeal to their readers? Carole Malone (also quoted above) does flag up the need for responsibility but prefers to deal with drug abuse in an “out of sight out of mind” way, rather than pronounce upon it, because her real target is Kate Moss:

Someone asked me this week whether I expected our icons to be perfect. The answer, of course, is no. However I do believe people who are icons – either by choice or because it’s been thrust upon them (together with a multi-million-pound pay- packet) have a duty to the legions of young people who look up to them. Yes, Kate Moss should be allowed to blow her head off with crack cocaine – but not as long as she’s making money out of her image. Because there’s a responsibility that goes with that and you pee over it at your peril.

In contrast, the other print media I consulted – Der Spiegel and Focus (German quality weeklies) and The Observer (UK Sunday broadsheet) were much more measured in their approaches. This is partly to be explained by the fact that there is not so much national interest in Kate Moss in the German mags and because they are all more highbrow.

She was the face of the Nineties in which she threw the rules of the fashion world on its head. What she lacked in legs and bosom, was forgotten in her look. This was cool but vulnerable, headstrong but concerned, empty with boredom but still on the case. Earlier, rockstars sang “Walk on the wild side:” Kate Moss strode for Versace and Dolce & Gabbana along the precipice where far below dangers lurked – amongst them cocaine. Only the drug was not seen in the glossy adverts.

Certainly, these last three titles showed more responsibility in their balanced articles but having said that, it was the Mirror Group’s in-your-face reporting that put this story – about an illegal act – in the public domain in the first place. Maybe they could turn their crusading methods onto other, more worthwhile targets: that will be an area for discussion at MHC International Ltd’s Masterclass on CSR and the Media in London on the 26th October 2005! [see]

4. The Government

One area the Mirror Group, as well as the other titles, could turn their attention to is the knotty subject of hard drugs. Cocaine is 150 years old and has been illegal around the world since the beginning of the last century, except for legitimate medical or governmental use. Yet in the UK, 475,000 people regularly use the drug recreationally. Colombian Nobel Prize winning writer and thinker Gabriel Garcia Marquez has, amongst others, stated that the legalisation of cocaine would stop the misery both in his home country and in poor housing estates in the UK.. And further, he cannot see an end to the civil war in Colombia as long as the illegal drug trade exists.

The UK Government would be able to tax revenues that otherwise line the pockets of drug traffickers and we, as responsible, adult citizens, would be free to choose cocaine alongside other recreational, addictive and legal drugs like tobacco and alcohol, without fear of censure or poisoning! But all that is another story.

5. We consumers,

can vote with our feet and with our wallets by making conscious decisions not to purchase unethical products or purchase from companies we feel are not responsible. This also cuts both ways and means that we have to be responsible and ethical in our purchasing, too. It is unlikely that many readers of this Monthly Feature get turned on by a counterfeit timepiece or handbag, but just consider who is benefiting from the too-good-to-be-true software deal you might be considering!

6. Kate Moss

A Super Model is at the top of her profession and all the world’s her stage. She is more than the brands and companies who employ her good looks. Indeed, it is her own, unique brand of celebrity that they want to use in selling their clothes, shoes, accessories and cosmetics. She is completely in the limelight: confident on the front pages of glossy magazines; wonderful at galas and premieres; supreme on the cat walk. It’ s a great business: as one Super Model infamously said “I don’t get out of bed for less than $1000 a day!”

Yet that same Super Model is the one who recommended Kate Moss go into rehab, as she had herself been treated for serious depression some years back.

The fashion world is fast changing and fickle and, like a top footballer, the time at the top for a Super Model, whilst lucrative for the very best, can often be very short. Indeed, it will be interesting to see whether the importance of Super Models will now gradually decline, as brands see that their reputation is best kept carefully in-house by using beautiful but anonymous faces, rather than in the external care of wayward celebrities. Either that or the fashion world will have to set up codes of behaviour and clear sets of values that keep their catwalk goddesses literally on the straight and narrow.

I originally started this Monthly Feature on the premise that Kate Moss was a woman with too much time and too much money on her hands, and that her recent disgrace really served her right. In the end, though, she has unintentionally done us all a service by pointing up the importance of responsible behaviour, both on a personal and on a corporate level.

7. Concluding Remarks

So, Kate Moss has two main choices: either to kick into touch the excesses of her current lifestyle before they kill her, and put her talents to some positive use or be true to herself and live fast and die young(ish) but by doing that keep turning the fashion world on its head. To do either one properly requires vision and courage. And either way, Kate Moss could become an example to us all, a model for CSR!

[ Contributed Ivor Hopkins, MHC International Ltd, September 2005 with comments from Michael Hopkins]

Carole Malone in The Sunday Mirror, 18 September 2005

Sean O’Hagan, The Observer digital edition | News | Sunday September 25 2005 | page 26: The breaking of Kate

Katherine Kendall, 2005

Kate ist ein Opfer ihres Erfolgs, ihres Stils, ihrer zeitlos modernen Einmaligkeit. Sie hat nie darauf bestanden, ein Tugendpinsel zu sein…Kate hat nur mehr Mut, ist freier, offener und spontaner als andere.” Puder, Zucker – oder Kokain?, Focus 39/2005, p. 13 Translated by Ivor Hopkins

Fisher and Lovell Business Ethica and Values (Prentice Hall 2003) p.103

“Sie wurde das Gesicht der neunziger Jahre, in denen sie die Gesetze der Branche auf den Kopf stellte. Was ihr an Beinen und Oberweite fehlte, ließ sie vergessen durch ihren Blick: Kühl war er, aber verletzlich; störrisch, aber anteilnehmend; leer vor Langeweile, aber es entging ihm trotzdem nichts. Vorher hatten Rockstars von “Walk on the Wild Side” gesungen, Kate Moss marschierte für Versace und Dolce & Gabbana am Abgrund entlang, und natürlich lagen dort unten gefährliche Dinge – auch Kokain. Nur zu sehen war die Droge auf den Hochglanzanzeigen nicht.” Supermodel Kate Moss: Popstar mit Probleme, Der Spiegel, 27.09.05

For the record, before there is a late night knock on the door, this author is a non-smoking, non-substance abusing person who enjoys a glass or two of Merlot