Why This Soap Maker Is Putting Its Disabled Employees on Packaging

TBWA London crafts #StealOurStaff for BECO

You know what's cool about Channel 4's "Superhumans" work? It made the Paralympics anticipated viewing, just by demonstrating how awesome athletes can be, even when they aren't fully able-bodied. It changed the way we talk about disability. 

But most workplaces still lack disabled people, which is odd; they comprise 15 percent of the global population. Some 18 percent of the U.K.'s working-age populace reported having a disability earlier this year, which adds up to 7.6 million people ages 16-64. 

Among those 7.6 million, 3.9 million (51.7 percent) are employed, a rise of 150,000 from last year. Compare that to the 81.7 percent of employed people without reported disabilities. 

This is called the Disability Employment Gap.

BECO, a social enterprise that makes environmentally friendly toiletries—and whose staff is 80 percent disabled—wants to raise awareness of this gap while changing perceptions of the disabled. Here's the hero spot. 

The campaign is called "Steal Our Staff." Staff photos and résumés will appear on future BECO products, showcasing its qualitative talent pool while inviting other employers to make them a competitive offer. 

One of the greatest triumphs of life post-"Superhumans" is that it's become unfashionable to position people with impairments as victims needing pity. But they also don't have to be superhumans all the time.

"At BECO Soap, 80 percent of the staff are disabled," says Sareet, who's visually impaired; his hands move rapidly in time with his words. "This isn't sign language, by the way. It's the jive, just done fast." He laughs.

We're fed some neat data in a good-natured way, but subtext matters just as much: We're exposed to a variety of people who work with impairments or are otherwise disabled. There's no mention of what their issues are. Instead, they're shown working while having opinions and a sense of humor. They're normal.

"Our debut BECO campaign was all about introducing the brand and its values to the world," says TBWA London's CEO, Sara Tate. "This second campaign gives us a chance to get even more creative. #StealOurStaff is a highly original twist on the staid old recruitment ad. More importantly, though, it's going to provoke a much-needed conversation about the U.K.'s shameful disability employment gap." 

A sense of accessibility permeates the work. Even the narrator is a parody of the dry, often weird audio description (AD) function on TV and in films: "A man with a guide dog stands on the factory floor, looking sad," it tells us, before the man in question shouts, "What d'ya mean sad? Not as sad as the 1.1 million disabled people struggling to find work, voice man." 

All this conveys a subtle message: Competence is measured by one's capacity to navigate problem space. It doesn't really have anything to do with traditional ideas of "ability." 

That distinction is crucial. Most of us won't even see disabled people apply for jobs where we work, reinforcing the sense that they just aren't around, and thus aren't any kind of representative norm. This is mostly because they're weeded out in advance, often by the very language of a job ad. 

That's sad, in an abstract way. But work like BECO's—which kind of obliges you to meet these people—makes ableist myopia feel transparently nasty, based, as it is, mostly on abstractions and not real contact. 

The packaging takeover kicked off on Sept. 3 and will impact product in stores like Boots, Sainsbury's and Waitrose. It's accompanied by an open letter challenging employers to hire more disabled folks, as well as outdoor work near major businesses, with customized résumé information. Video executions are running on Channel 4 and in social. 

Influencers, CEOs and HR people will receive bespoke boxes of BECO products, featuring relevant staff curricula vitae. BECO's website will feature additional details on employees of interest, plus info on how to hire disabled staff, courtesy of Scope, The Valuable 500, Open Inclusion and Virgin Media, who consulted with TBWA London on their internal processes. 

In case you're wondering why BECO would want to get rid of its employees if they're so good, there's an answer for that. "We shouldn't be the only business that gives jobs to people with disabilities," says founder Camilla Marcus-Dew.

"That's why we're on a mission to promote members of our amazing team to other employers—in the hope that our talent will find new jobs, and make way for BECO's next generation of workers with disabilities."

Examples of packaging appear below. Click/tap to enlarge.

CREDITS

Client: BECO
Head of Sustainable Growth, CLARITY & Co.: Camilla Marcus-Dew 
Marketing Manager, CLARITY & Co.: Diane Cheung

Agency: TBWA London
CCO: Andy Jex
Creatives: Dan Kenny & Duncan Brooks
Producer: Holly Baker
Business Director: Daisy Hampton
Account Director: Max Phillips
Social Media Planner: Sophie Elliott
Senior Planner: Killian Kapfer 
Head of Design: Aaron Moss 
Business Affairs: Cath Pow
Art buyer: Louise Cripps & Claire Delefons 
Photographer: Philip Haynes
Agent: Peter Bailey
Retouching: eg+ 
Production Company: Hoi Polloi 
Directo: Dan Castella
Editor: Dan French 

Profile picture for user Angela Natividad
Angela Natividad
Angela Natividad is a founding contributor to Muse. She is also the co-founder of esports agency Hurrah.gg, and co-author of Generation Creation.