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Social License to Operate Ranking 2018

Executive Summary

Do Canadians believe that organizations are trustworthy, socially responsible, environmentally sensitive and ethical? In other words, do Canadian organizations have a Social License to Operate (SLO)? Until Dalhousie’s Faculty of Management explored these questions, no one had an answer.

SLO captures whether a company operating in a particular location has the approval of the local community. In October 2017, a bilingual on-line survey was sent to a sample of Canadians aged 18 and over. We asked Canadians about the sub-components of the SLO — trustworthiness, social responsibility, environmental responsibility, and ethical practices — in relation to national transportation providers, food retailers, clothing retailers, and government departments. Participants also had the opportunity to evaluate local organizations. We received 1641 completed replies that were drawn from every province and territory. To our knowledge, this is the first survey of this kind conducted in Canada.

Surprisingly, the results suggest that high perceived levels of trustworthiness, social responsibility, and sustainability are not consistently equated to frequency of use. In two sectors, government departments/services and transportation, high perceived levels of SLO actually have a negative correlation with reported usage. In food retail, local food suppliers consistently received the highest SLO rankings for almost every demographic category and region, but ranked second in usage to the national retailer Loblaws. Only in clothing retail was there a strong and consistent positive correlation between high perceived SLO and high usage. Furthermore, survey respondents demonstrated a strong preference for Canadian clothing retailers, giving Canadian brands higher SLO rankings.

There were other consistent patterns. Regionally, Northern Canadians have the most polarized views. In every sector, we found the greatest spread in the SLO rankings between the highest and lowest ranked items. Northern Canadians are also the most negative in their perceptions of SLO in every sector. In contrast, Central Canadians are the most positive and consistent in their SLO rankings, with the narrowest margins between highest and lowest ranked organizations in every sector. Middle income Canadians, earning between $50,000 and $100,000 per year, were also more positive in their perceptions of SLO in every sector than were Canadians in lower or higher income categories.

This survey was a pilot project. It will be repeated in future years. Now that we have a baseline of Canadians’ opinions, we can track changing perceptions in a volatile consumer marketplace.

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