Drew Estate: A Cigar Company's Take on Corporate Social Responsibility
When you think about corporate social responsibility – i.e., good corporate citizenship – the cigar industry probably isn't the first that comes to mind. The cigar business is small and only appeals to a handful of customers. Though I've been a cigar smoker for close to 15 years and was a consumer business strategist for a major consulting firm, I'd never thought about the possibility of corporate social responsibility in the cigar world – it jest never occurred to me.
While I was walking the Drew Estate factory in Esteli, Nicaragua, though, I began to hear the cues that signal an effort to be a valuable member of the community. The company – which produces the Acid and Java cigar lines, along with newer products such as the T9 and T52 – pays twice the region's prevailing wage for its positions. There are healthcare facilities on the premises. Wood for cigar boxes comes only from approved sources with environmentally friendly practices, and the company makes it a point to hire people with disabilities.
Jonathan Drew, one of the company's owners, spoke with me at length about Drew Estate's commitment to the surrounding community, which involves several measures intended to benefit not just the factory's employees but the people of Esteli.
While the holiday celebrations that involve the entire neighborhood, healthcare for employees and pregnancy leave are prominent aspects of Drew's informal philosophy of corporate social responsibility, I was struck by two rather unusual aspects: food and art.
Gallery: Drew Estate Cigar Factory
Drew has also used art as a way to enrich the community. The company's in-house art studio, which produces logos, in-store signage and other promotional materials, is given the time and materials to pursue its own interests. Throughout the factory, large replicas of Nicaraguan postage stamps have been produced, contributing to pride in the community and its heritage, and a large mural in the "resort" area of the factory, where Drew hosts visiting consumers, uses traditional Nicaraguan art to tell the company's story. What began with the hiring of two local graffiti artists has created jobs and improved the workplace.
The corporate social responsibility measures implemented by Drew Estate have shown that businesses can benefit from good corporate citizenship. In addition to having grown rapidly over its 11 years in business, retention has been impressive: employees of Drew Estate tend to stick around.
The efforts of Drew Estate may not reach the heights of those at Whole Foods or Starbucks, but they do stand out in the cigar industry. Every time you cut and light a T52, you're making the world a better place.