In May 2015, with media hype, a program was announced to reduce juvenile employment and support their entrepreneurial spirit, as part of the corporate responsibility before the society. In principle, the Program is very praiseworthy, it will let some youngsters earn some money over the summer and, what is more important; it will keep them busy in a productive activity.
But, will this contribute to reducing juvenile employment and promoting entrepreneurial development? Is this the best option for a socially responsible enterprise to do for youngsters? Are its benefits overvalued and its costs and risks undervalued? Is the program oversold? Has the program been captured by marketing and public relations in detriment of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility)?
Sometimes, it gets out of hands for Communications people, and despite their best of intentions those at CSR succumb to pressure. According to the company’s press bulletin (emphasis added):
“The ice-cream brand Frigo has launched “I’m Frigo,” an initiative to promote employment among college students and youngsters under risk of social exclusion in Spain. The project driven by Unilever through Frigo is global and aims at creating 100,000 jobs around the world by 2020 , to combat the acute problem of high youth unemployment, which is over 52% in Spain … Frigo foresees that 500 Spanish youngsters might participate in the initiative this year.”
Would the “social exclusion risk” be the selection criteria or just an attempt at appearing caring? It does not appear as criteria in the application to the program. Neither it is easy to determine.
“The program falls within the National CSR Plan, what makes Frigo one of the first brands to develop a program entirely directed at the professional development and labor insertion of youngsters, as well as joining the Juvenile Employment and Entrepreneurship Strategy of the Ministry.”
Is teaching how to sell ice-creams during the summer a “program of professional development and labor insertion”? Or is it just an attempt to use appropriate words to please the government?
Before reaching for the streets, the youngsters of the program “I’m Frigo” will receive training on selling techniques, stock control, food handling, accounting, marketing and social media with the objective of improving their skills andcompetencies to manage their ice-cream stand and, above all, their future employability.
The program will develop “skills and competencies to manage their ice-cream stand”?
The participants in the initiative will have the possibility during the campaign to manage ice-cream selling equipment (motorbike, bicycle, and cart) as if they were part of their own business … That way consumers who buy at “I’m Frigo” ice-cream stands will not only enjoy their ice-cream but also help creating jobs .
Consumers will be made aware that by helping Frigo increasing their sales, they will be “helping in creating jobs.” Good marketing strategy. Do not the other sales help creating jobs?
The duration of the participation in the program will (be limited) … will depend on the duration of the event, and there will be others located in beaches, whose selling period will be extended until the end of summer … Once the first phase of the program is finished, Frigo will reward the three best sellers , based on volume of sales and originality of their efforts. Among these prizes, there willbe the possibility of doing paid internships at Unilever (emphasis added).
The incentives are based on the volume of sales and the reward for “the three best sellers” is the “possibility of paid internships.” Is this employment creation and professional development?
I believe there is no doubt that job creation and support of entrepreneurship is corporate responsibility towards society. Precisely, it is a neglected responsibility by most of the companies. That is why I had published an article on this subject in the journal Globalización, Competitividad y Gobernabilidad (Globalization, Competitiveness, and Governability) (Vol. 7, Nº 3, Sep-Dec 2013, Empleo y emprendimiento como responsabilidad social de las empresas (Employment and entrepreneurship as corporate social responsibility) where I advocated for increased involvement by corporations and the development of a supportive ecosystem by some governments, civil society (specifically the universities) and the own corporations.
The creation of jobs is very much needed, but does the program “I’m Frigo” comply with the objectives stated in their press releases of contributing to job creation and entrepreneurship development? I see nothing against selling ice-creams in the streets and beaches. The question is if this is a program that aims at helping unemployed youth, the enterprise, or both. If it were the latter, as it should be, it would be desirable that the benefits produced by higher sales should be reinvested in the youngsters. Is this the best Frigo can do for the youngsters? No doubt, this is an excellent marketing strategy, but is it social responsibility? Does the publicity accurately reflect the reality of the program?
To answer these questions, we should analyze the conditions under which the so mentioned jobs created, that implicitly show what a program of social responsibility should be to promote jobs and entrepreneurship:
Does the program create jobs or is it just “occupation”? Is this temporary employment?
What happens with the youngsters after the season is over? Are they again unemployed?
Do they have work contracts with the corresponding benefits?
Which obligations do the youngsters acquire?
What happens if after completing training they do not want to work?
Do they learn something else besides how to “manage an ice-cream stand”?
How do they participate in the sale benefits? Are they on commission? Do they have a salary?
Do they have sale quotas? What would happen if they are not met?
What are the risks for the youngsters? Do they have to buy or rent the carts, bicycles, or motorbikes from the company?
How many will become entrepreneurs and how many will get a permanent job?
The answers to these questions will allow us to assess the legitimacy of the program as part of the social corporate responsibility and its contribution. We do not have the answers; the program “I’m Frigo” website does not answer them. We encourage the reader to analyze the program in terms of the answers he can find or guess for these questions.
I wish Frigo would answer them as part of the program promotion.
It is surprising that a company known as global leader of sustainability and innovation at the service of society, Unilever, with an extraordinary and admired CEO as leader, Paul Polman, would create such a timid program as “I’m Frigo.” By coincidence, the same day and in the same country this program was announced, Mr. Polman received the ESADE reward for best leadership in promoting innovation support for the socially responsible growth of companies (a well-deserved award in my opinion).
And what are the incentives of program? There is a prize for selling more ice-creams. Who wins if they all strive to sell more ice-creams? The company captures everybody’s efforts and rewards three people with the possibility of paid internships. What are the three winners out of 500 participants left with? A job? Why don’t they give a permanent job in the company to those who excel iniinnovation and entrepreneurship instead of “the possibility of a paid internship” for being a good salesperson?
When this writer was 13 years old, he was offered a similar job during the summer, as a salesman of floor cleaners, going from house to house, from apartment to apartment. It was not part of a CSR program (it was many decades ago), it was plainly the use of cheap labor, in fact with no salary as we earned a commission for each bottle sold. The only day I “worked,” I sold two bottles and broke another. I had to pay the company the weekly allowance that my father gave me. Bad business … for me. The company sold three bottles.
However, I learned a lot: I will never be a salesman again; I will never submit myself to the humiliation of ringing bells and receiving derogatory answers. I will study at all times to become a worthy professional, financially self-sufficient. It had some impact: I graduated as the best student from my high school, as best engineering student in my country, and I earned an MBA and a Ph. D. from a prestigious university in the US. But that experience made me lost all appetite for taking entrepreneurial risks and led me to depend on employment given by others.
I wish ice creams do not melt on these youngsters and have to pay the company back. Maybe one of them may find a big market and create a distribution company or decides to compete with Frigo. Maybe some will learn what I have learned: it is better to study and build your future than selling ice-creams in beaches. If that were the case, the program would have done a service for society by getting some of Spain’s 800,000 NINORs  out of their lethargy.