The recently formed healthcare multinational makes a good start with its first report

In January, Walgreens Boots Alliance published its first Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Report as a combined company. The new company was formed in late 2014 as a merger between US-based retail pharmacy Walgreens and the British retail pharmacy and pharmaceutical wholesaler Alliance Boots.

Today, Walgreens Boots Alliance, which employs 370,000 people across five continents, declares itself to be the largest “retail pharmacy, health, and daily living destination” in the US and Europe.

This report represents the company’s first major opportunity to introduce itself through a lens of shared values and vision for CSR — going beyond the financial strategies that made the merger a good fit. In many respects, it succeeds in demonstrating the best of each legacy company’s social and environmental initiatives and commitments. And it reflects the global reach of Walgreens Boots Alliance from Houston to Hong Kong and Nottingham to Norway.

It leads with the new company’s purpose to help people across the world live healthier and happier lives, and delves into 15 CSR priorities and objectives for 2016 related to a four-pillar framework of community, environment, marketplace and workplace.

However, it lacks a substantive discussion of material issues and does not report on measurable goals, metrics or data associated with the objectives — a step back from Alliance Boots’ externally assured CSR data in past years. Even without data from the Retail Pharmacy USA division (formerly Walgreens), publishing at least some performance data from the other two divisions would have helped to contextualise impacts of specific programmes and initiatives from charitable giving to energy reductions.

It would have been good to see a clear discussion of how the objectives will be achieved. Instead, individual sections provide more a collection of examples than a cohesive overview of the new company’s approach to managing its impacts and achieving its purpose.

This is not to understate the challenge of reporting for a newly formed company — new baselines must be established, best practices shared and strategies aligned. Nevertheless, the report could have built on the historical Alliance Boots’ legacy of CSR reporting to demonstrate leadership, acknowledge those challenges and discuss how the two businesses are being integrated.

Getting deeper into the content of the report, however, some common themes that are well aligned with the company’s vision and objectives rise to the top — particularly charitable and volunteer programmes that address access to healthcare, health information, and public health. Programmes to provide vitamins to at-risk young people and mothers (reaching 62 million young people since 2013), flu shots to the uninsured (worth $11m in 2015), and basic supplies for healthcare providers in under-resourced regions are well matched with Walgreens Boots Alliance’s core business and reach, given their presence in thousands of communities and their wholesale capabilities. As the two companies continue to integrate, it would be good to see an enhanced focus on these areas through scalable, strategic philanthropy that can have a significant, lasting impact.

In terms of report format, the PDF report mirrors the website. The website is user-friendly and engaging, in part because the highlights and case studies are well suited to a web audience, rather than consumers of a full PDF CSR report. Adding in the voice of stakeholders, including community partners and employees, would help bring the stories and highlights to life and personalize them.

Overall, for a first report from a newly combined company, the Walgreens Boots Alliance 2015 CSR report does a nice job of comprehensively cataloguing stories and programmes from both legacy companies, and starts to lay out a CSR strategy. It will be good to see a continued discussion of strategy and focus of resources on efforts that can maximise Walgreens Boots Alliance’s ability to “help people across the world lead healthier and happier lives”.


• GRI: No
• Assurance: No
• Materiality: No
• Goals & targets: Discusses objectives without defined, measurable goals and targets
• Stakeholder input: Strategic guidance includes an externally facilitated CSR advisory panel, but limited direct input to the report
• Seeks feedback: No
• Key strengths: Stories demonstrate global scale
• Chief weakness: Lacks CSR performance data
• Pleasant Surprise: Since 2013, Walgreens has provided vitamins to 62 million children, towards a goal of reaching 100 million by the end of 2017

Jana Holt, senior consultant, Context America

CRS  environmental  public health  strategy 

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