By David Levine
The general public’s strong opposition to the oft-called “Muslim travel ban” was not surprising — but the business community’s reaction was. Companies are typically silent on a presidential executive order that doesn’t directly address business. Not this time.
Amazon went on record early, supporting the judicial roll-back of the executive order. In a widely reported effort, nearly 100 famous-name, mostly-tech companies, including Apple and Microsoft, jointly filed an amicus brief against the travel ban.
Levi-Strauss and Tesla were also involved in the filing. Y Combinator is supporting the ACLU, whose lawyers successfully challenged the ban at its outset. Amazon joined with Expedia in supporting Washington state’s lawsuit against the ban — the case in which the federal judge granted a temporary stay, returning travel to normal. Disney and other mega-firms also expressed concern.
The amicus brief statement – echoed by Amazon in the Washington state case — explained that the travel ban “disrupts ongoing business operations” and further that it “threatens companies’ ability to attract talent, business and investments to the United States.”
Boosting the voice of responsible business
The American Sustainable Business Council launched a sign-on letter to help build a broad, collective business voice protesting the travel ban. It stated, in part, “Many businesses will suffer financially, as fearful employees will be less productive and lower consumer confidence will decrease sales. Many talented, loyal employees throughout the economy should be hard at work contributing to our success — instead, they are now in a legal quagmire.”
Within two weeks, more than 350 business leaders signed the letter, including Seventh Generation, Dansko and Earth Friendly Products.
Being a force for good means speaking out
Many of these companies are fervent competitors, but they share an awareness that business leaders not only can be, but must be, a force for good on behalf of their fellow human beings – and that this sometimes means standing up and speaking out.
The interconnectedness of buyers and sellers, workers and employers is not new, but respect for it is overdue. Companies like the ones in action here are the cutting edge of a smarter, broader definition of what it means to be “businesslike.” This new definition of businesslike is transforming every industry. It also has the potential to transform government policy.
With businesspeople dominating the new Administration, we should expect policies designed to be business-friendly. But with conventional business lobbies entrenched in Washington and state houses across the country, the prevailing definition of “business-friendly” government will fall into two unhelpful categories: short-term, profit-at-all-costs, crony capitalism, or disruptive policies – like the immigration ban — that distract from voters’ other concerns.
‘Business-friendly’ government looks very different to companies that are economically, socially and environmentally responsible. These companies operate from ethical principles and live their values through their everyday business practices. Menacing the wellbeing of valued employees and customers disrupts their operations, and policies that do that are never “businesslike.”
Conventional business voices have always had enormous influence on policy decisions. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the largest lobbing group in Washington for a reason. Despite defections of well-known brand companies because of the Chamber’s positions on certain policies, the Chamber still spends more than two-and-one-half times more on lobbying than the next biggest lobbing group.
When business leaders speak, policymakers listen. But for too long, responsible business leaders have focused on their work and let others, like the U.S. Chamber, talk for them. Now it appears responsible businesses want to send a different message.
That’s good news for our economy, our environment and our democracy. Responsible business leaders understand we don’t need to damage our environment to have a strong economy. They realize fair regulations are the only way to ensure markets work for the long-term, not just the next quarter. And they know trampling human rights will not bring better jobs.
Responsible company leaders are signing on and speaking up to bring a smarter business voice to the table. In condemning the travel ban specifically, they’ve reminded government that the ban undermines the interconnections and workforce mobility on which all businesses depend. They’ve also reminded government that, since immigrants have consistently added value to our economy, banning them not only violates America’s basic beliefs but threatens America’s competitiveness and prosperity.
The more that ethical business leaders speak out to explain how responsible public policy is good for business, the more impact we’ll have on policymakers. We have the advantage of surprise: business defending the good is news. If we use this advantage and provide a better voice for “what business wants,” we’ll give government cover to enact policy that brings out the best in American business, and in people, too.
Business leaders may sign the ASBC letter here.
Image credit: Flickr/Peg Hunter
David Levine is co-founder and CEO of the American Sustainable Business Council.