‘Billionaires Behaving Badly?’ – now there’s an eye-catching headline

In case you were wondering, this blog isn’t about a Russian oil tycoon or a Premier-league footballer with an eye for the ladies. In fact, ‘Billionaires Behaving Badly?’ is the title of a recent Panorama story about mining giant Glencore which has been accused of child labour and acid dumping in the Congo.

What’s interesting is not so much the actual content of the story as the impression the story leaves behind and the possible effect it may have on reputation.

According to an article in the Guardian, ‘an investigation by the BBC’s Panorama has found Glencore dumping acid into a river and it discovered children as young as 10 working in the Tilwezembe mine, which was officially closed by Glencore in 2008.’

The Chief Executive of the Swiss-based company, which floated on the London Stock Exchange last year, denies the claims saying Glencore takes corporate responsibility seriously. In his first television interview, Ivan Glasenberg says: ‘We care about the environment [and] local communities.’

According to Glasenberg, the child labourers are part of a group of local artisanal miners which raided the Glencore site. ‘We are pleading with the Government to remove the artisanal miners from our concessions.’ Regarding the polluted river, Glasenberg says that the locals have been dumping in the river for 50 years and that ‘Glencore has spent vast amounts of money to get rid of this problem, to ensure clean water…will be discharged into that river’.

So which side of the story is correct? Even though the headline has a question mark at the end (which implies the statement has yet to be proved) ’Billionaires Behaving Badly?’ is surely the headline most will remember. As our senior consultant Peter Jones points out, companies must at all times be in control of their own narrative so that, when the bad press hits the fan, the headlines are seen in context of the broader story.

In addition, this story demonstrates the enormous power wielded by the big news organisations, and that, despite the power of social media, broadcast still plays a large part in shaping public opinion.