The Work Couch

The Work Couch: Social washing: Avoiding the pitfalls

Published on 28 February 2024

Welcome to The Work Couch, the podcast series where we explore how your business can navigate today's tricky people challenges and respond to key developments in the ever-evolving world of employment law.

The term "social washing" is increasingly used to name and shame businesses – with substantial commercial consequences. But what does it actually mean? And how can businesses avoid the pitfalls?

Ellie Gelder is joined by Kelly Thomson, partner and RPC's ESG lead, to explore the issue of social washing, including:

  • What the "S" in ESG means, how far it extends, and how it overlaps with the "E" (environmental) and the "G" (governance);
  • The conflicting commercial drivers for businesses to engage with today's pressing social concerns;
  • The concept of social washing and examples of how it can arise;
  • Potential commercial risks of social washing;
  • The links between social washing and greenwashing;
  • Future trends in respect of regulatory scrutiny and stakeholder focus on a business's social engagement and accountability; and
  • Key anchor points to bear in mind when engaging with a social issue to reduce the risks of social washing.

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All information is correct at the time of recording.  

The Work Couch is not a substitute for legal advice.


  1. United Nations Foundation: Sustainable Development Goals
  2. Article by Harvard Business Review "Woke-washing your company won't cut it" (27 July 2020)
  3. Research by Kantar Mistrust and rejection: The impact of greenwashing and social washing on brands (9 November 2023)
  4. Research by RepRisk on the link between social washing and greenwashing (3 October 2023)
Click here for the full transcript File type: PDF Size: 220 KB