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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

Luxury and social inclusion

As the world grapples with the effects of the pandemic, there has been a shift in societal expectations as companies face mounting pressure to align their ambitions with long-term value creation for society. Companies thus have a unique opportunity to act as vehicles for social change by taking activist stances on social, political, and environmental issues. Luxury brands are in a key position to accelerate the transition towards an inclusive society by leveraging their cultural authority. Therefore, this project aims to explore the opportunities and challenges of luxury brand activism and its impact on social inclusion. The findings of this research will inform a roadmap for building purpose-driven businesses in the luxury sector, thereby helping organisations accelerate the transition towards inclusive societies.

Applications in practice

  • Business strategies and models
  • Social and political change

Contribution to CISL’s core research themes

Inclusive and resilient societiesInclusive and resilient societies



About the project

With demand for corporate purpose expected to maintain momentum post-pandemic, organisations should play an important role in addressing societal challenges by aligning their mission, values, and strategies to a purpose beyond profit maximisation. Due to the high visibility and symbolic power of luxury which puts the industry under increased scrutiny, there arises an opportunity for luxury brands to take on a role as driver for positive societal change towards inclusivity. In embracing this opportunity, luxury brands should define their purpose and use their voice to foster social inclusion by shaping societal norms and accelerating behavioural change. Consequently, this research seeks to explore the opportunities and challenges of luxury brand activism and its impact on social inclusion. In particular, this study has the following objectives:

  1. To provide a comprehensive framework of brand activism that clearly delineates its forms, levels and strategies.
  2. To explore the role of brand purpose and brand values as drivers for brand activism.
  3. To understand consumer expectations and identify the main barriers for behavioral change.
  4. To critically examine the impact of brand activism on social inclusion and identify its boundary conditions and underlying mechanisms.
  5. To inform businesses, governments and financial leaders of the core strategies, practices, and partnerships needed to motivate societal change towards inclusive societies.

Impact and relevance

As societies face growing environmental, economic, and social challenges, further exacerbated by the pandemic, the demand for corporate purpose has been on the rise. As such, luxury brands have a unique opportunity to drive business model transformation and become agents of social change by taking activist stances to communicate, advance, and debate socio-political challenges in the public sphere. The activist involvement of companies can create visibility and inclusion in the marketplace by normalising social issues and changing attitudes and behaviours; however, there remains little guidance for marketing managers on how to do so effectively. Thus, the findings of this research will inform a roadmap for building purpose-driven businesses in the luxury sector. More precisely, this research will identify the key characteristics of strategy implementation for brand activism that can guide managers on which issues to support, including how, why, and when this strategy is effective. By offering actionable insights and identifying scalable solutions, this research can help organisations accelerate the transition towards inclusive societies, and guide its expansion and replication in the luxury industry and other private sectors.


By using a multidisciplinary approach, integrating insights from sociology, organisation studies and management literature, this project will be structured around the following workstreams:

1. The role of brand purpose as a driver for brand activism

This workstream will explore the role of luxury brands as purpose-driven entities and how brands can can best align the social message with the desired brand associations. By using a case study approach and conducting qualitative research—including semi-structured interviews with senior and middle level employees from the luxury sector—this research will examine the role of brand identity and culture in their alignment with the social cause. The findings will provide insights that help managers in identifying the core purpose of the company and the motivation to engage in brand activism.

2. A comprehensive framework of brand activism to foster social inclusion

The main objective of this workstream is to clearly delineate the forms, levels, strategies, and channels of brand activism that can effectively foster social inclusion without diluting brand image. Through quantitative research which combines both surveys and online experiments, this workstream will aim to capture consumer expectations for the role of companies in addressing socio-economic challenges and to assess consumer knowledge, attitudes, and perceptions towards brand activism. The findings of this workstream should provide insights on the main barriers and challenges to behavioural change, which can in turn inform firms’ strategies on how best to connect consumers with brand purpose and values and how to communicate with consumers in ways that can accelerate behavioural change.

3. Develop a collaborative strategy to foster social inclusion and measure its impact

Combining a clear understanding of how brand activism works and the ways in which it is influenced by brand purpose and values, this phase of the project will synthesise a long-term strategy to foster social inclusion. Building on the initial findings of this study, this workstream will seek to create a roadmap for the facilitation of social inclusion through collaborative engagement with key stakeholders, including employers, consumers, and communities. By conducting a real-life activist social media campaign to capture the engagement of participants, the findings of this workstream will provide insights on the diverse mechanisms and pathways through which brands as activists can engender positive societal change.


The findings of this research will be disseminated via several academic and non-academic outlets aimed at a diverse range of audiences. In particular, this research will target high-impact, peer-reviewed academic journals in Management and Marketing. Additionally, the research will offer actionable insights for practitioners through personalised reports, case studies and best practice guides.

To increase public outreach and raise awareness, the findings will also be shared among various business and sustainability online communities via public lectures, blog posts, and social media platforms.

The international impact of this research will be strengthened through participation in reputable international academic conferences and industry events where leading academic researchers and top luxury executives share ideas and insights on major trends and challenges of sustainability.

Collaborators and funding

This work is supported by a philanthropic gift from Chanel.

The main research collaborators include:

Prof. Paurav Shukla, University of Southampton

Dr. Veronica Rosendo-Rios, Colegio Universitario de Estudios Financieros (CUNEF)

Professor Jennifer Howard-Grenville, Diageo Professor in Organisation Studies, Judge Business School

Aileen Noonan, Research assistant, MPhil Judge Business School

Dr Dina Khalifa

The Prince of Wales Global Sustainability Fellow in Luxury and Social Inclusion, supported by Chanel

“True Luxury lies not in the sparkle of your diamonds nor the prominence of your logos. Rather, it is having your voice heard and your talent acknowledged and celebrated. For there is no greater luxury than to feel fully, unequivocally included.”

Dr Dina Khalifa