Target’s value chain story is a novel and successful approach to reporting, but the retailer should be brave enough to address critical voices

In its most recent corporate responsibility (CR) report, published in June 2014, Target takes readers on a journey through its value chain. This is a novel approach to reporting for a large retailer.

Rather than organising the content by traditional sustainability issue areas, the report begins by describing how CR is built into the design of its products, logistics and stores. The narrative moves through the chain of product sourcing and manufacturing, shipping, sale, use and finally reuse.

Through the value chain, Target demonstrates that CR is integrated into the company’s business approach and not simply an add-on activity. Issues are framed in the context of the company’s operational and supply chain footprint, helping the reader to understand the scope and scale of its business. The report uses helpful icons, identifying which part of the value chain is covered.

The primary report is a PDF with supporting data and information on the CR website. In addition to the value chain, the report has separate sections on safety, community and workplace. Rather lengthy at nearly 100 pages, the well-designed report makes liberal use of white space and rich photography. Some areas with greater density of information would have reduced the length without detracting from its appeal. The design presents metrics and progress against goals clearly, with frequent use of bar charts and callouts communicating the company’s progress.

The report also makes great use of graphics to support the narrative. There is an elegant infographic on page 18 that describes the company’s social compliance audit cycle. This can be a confusing topic for readers who are not familiar with factory compliance, and the graphic explains the process in a very straightforward fashion.

The goals are meaningful, substantive and appropriately balanced between achievability and challenge. Metrics are quite detailed and easy to follow, especially in the area of factory audit disclosure.

Throughout the report, Target features external stakeholder voices, including quotes from third party partners. This is a great way to lend credibility to the report. But the idea falls short because the content was selected to praise Target for a job well done. In the future it would be great to see candid stakeholder letters that address the company’s challenges and frank discussion of the company’s opportunities for improvement.


Target faced a significant challenge in late 2013 when a data breach occurred, compromising customers’ payment-card data during the peak holiday shopping season in the US. The company did an excellent job in this report of describing the data breach, and the measures it has taken to improve cybersecurity and customer awareness of this issue. The section included a quote from the interim chief executive and a list of specific actions taken by the company. Coverage of this damaging issue is impressive, especially given that it occurred late in the reporting cycle.

Overall, Target’s 2013 CR report is a strong effort. In the next report, due in June 2015, the value chain structure could be extended to integrate the safety, community and workplace sections. Describing how communities and employees are integral to the company’s business, from product sourcing to end of life, would make this already good report into a truly compelling narrative.


  • Follows GRI? Yes
  • Assured? No
  • Materiality analysis? Yes
  • Goals? Yes
  • Targets? Yes
  • Stakeholder input? Yes
  • Seeks feedback? Yes
  • Key strengths? Value chain narrative
  • Chief weakness? Lacks discussion of challenges and areas for future improvement
  • Pleasant surprise? Includes a frank and substantive discussion of late 2013 data breach

Celine M. Suarez is a client director for Context America

CR report review  CR Reporting  CR Reporting Target  Target 

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