There’s been a long and sometimes contentious conversation in the United States about the role of business in society generally and politics specifically. In 2010, for example, the US Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision explicitly applied the 1st amendment’s free speech provision to associations of citizens (companies, non-profits, unions, etc).
Because companies generally do not want to offend their customers, they tend to limit their political activity to behind-the-scenes donations rather than public pronouncements. One exception was a 2012 controversy involving Chick-fil-A, the result of which appears to be a change in Chick-fil-A’s policy and actions due to consumer and local governmental backlash.
Fast forward to 2017 and we have a couple of very interesting examples of companies taking actions in the political and social realms.
Portland-based agency Grady Britton recently published Engaging in Political Action as a Brand: Rising Above the Noise Without Alienating Consumers. Some key quotes:
In this extremely politically charged climate, can a brand like Kellogg’s take a stand for what it believes is right without excluding specific audiences? How do you avoid a Breitbart-style boycott while explicitly choosing not to affiliate with any groups who don’t share your values?
You have the choice between standing for a cause or standing against whoever disagrees with you. One choice may result in a boycott. The other can build a bridge.
Ben and Jerry’s
Ben and Jerry’s has podcast ad reads pointing listeners to BenAndJerrys.com/RacialJustice. Their site also has an article titled 7 Ways We Know Systemic Racism Is Real and another Why Black lives matter. Some quotes:
We’ve come to understand that to be silent about the violence and threats to the lives and well-being of Black people is to be complicit in that violence and those threats.
…it’s become clear to us at Ben & Jerry’s that we have a moral obligation to take a stand now for justice and for Black lives.
All lives do matter. But all lives will not matter until Black lives matter.
Let’s be clear: systemic racism is a corrosive and widespread problem in our society, and we all need to do a better job of confronting it—in our towns, in our neighborhoods, and in ourselves.
“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” – Elie Wiesel
It is true that while we may have fewer overt racists, racism is still deeply embedded within systems like our schools, workplaces, the criminal justice system and hospitals, to name a few. Think about it: because white people occupy a disproportionate number of positions of power in our society it comes at the expense of people of color.
Over 100 tech companies have filed a friend of the court brief with the 9th Circuit in opposition to the recent executive order that suspends immigration from 7 majority muslim nations. Amazon was a witness in the initial filing from the State of Washington. While these actions may be seen as self-serving as the executive order affects employees of these companies, they could have supported their own employees quietly instead of publicly.
We can actively work toward the world we want to live in, individually and through our companies. In fact, to be our best selves, we have that responsibility.