What Can Estée Lauder’s New Focus on Corporate Responsibility Accomplish?

Yesterday brought news that The Estée Lauder Companies, in an move clearly designed to strengthen the brand’s reputation as a responsible company around the world, created a new position within its corporate responsibility unit.

The company chose Pamela Gill Alabaster, former SVP of corporate comms, sustainable development and corporate affairs at L’Oreal, to fill the new role with the general purpose of keeping CSR strategy “in alignment with the Company’s long-term business objectives”. What does that mean, exactly?

In recent years, Lauder launched various CSR initiatives focused on highlighting environmental programs and presenting a more diverse face to an expanding global market. The company has faced related PR challenges in the past, particularly on the subjects of sustainability and animal testing—both of which will be central to this new CSR move.

The company’s own responsibility page states that it is “committed to the elimination of all animal testing on all cosmetic products and ingredients worldwide”, but the issue remains thorny. PETA, for example, recently removed Estée Lauder from its “does not test on animals” list, but the corporate statement hints at a reason for this change: As Bloomberg mentioned in an August piece on L’Oreal’s expansion into China, Chinese law requires some degree of animal testing on new products before they hit the market, leaving global cosmetics brands in something of a bind.

The question: can Lauder’s new focus on CSR minimize the effects this fact has on public perceptions? And how can the brand best go about it?