Corporate Activism Addresses Climate Change, Immigration Reform, LGBTQ Rights

COMMIT!Forum will convene hundreds of corporate social responsibility leaders and CEOs from CR Magazine’s annual 100 Best Corporate Citizens ranking.  The event includes a pre-conference workshop on integrated CSR and sustainability reporting from BrownFlynn.  Emcees for COMMIT!Forum include Aman Singh, editor in chief of Futerra, and Icema Gibbs, head of CSR at JetBlue Airways.

By Dave Armon

With 50 Fortune 500 companies and more than 400 small businesses voicing opposition to a proposed Texas bathroom law, the phenomenon of brands taking stands shows no sign of abating.

But there was a pause, immediately after U.S. President Donald Trump was inaugurated, when large companies showed signs of retrenchment from publicly advocating for progressive policies on environmental, social and governance issues, according to a poll from the nonprofit CEO-led coalition CECP.

A post-election dip in corporate activism happened was noted in February, a few weeks after President Trump took office, according to Daryl Brewster, CEO of the organization founded in 1999 by actor and activist Paul Newman.  By June, new membership research showed momentum had returned to the Brands Taking Stands movement.

The surge in corporate activism has not been limited to social issues. A letter signed by 30 high-profile CEOs seeking continued U.S. support of the Paris climate agreement was unsuccessful in getting the new administration to remain in the pact, aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“While not every company is comfortable taking public stands on social, political, environmental and governance issues, we know that being a good corporate citizen produces business benefits well beyond the profit line,” said Lynne Filderman, executive producer of COMMIT!Forum, the annual conference presented by the Corporate Responsibility Association and CR Magazine, at the MGM National Harbor, just outside Washington, D.C.  “The Brands Taking Stands theme has been exceptionally well received, which means information sharing and debate will be healthy and insightful when we meet in October.”

“With business emerging as a stabilizing force despite unpredictable global circumstance, leading companies like are taking brave steps in speaking out on issues that matter to their stakeholders, including employees, consumers, and communities,” said Brewster. “CEOs are playing statesman-like roles and taking positions on topics ranging from race relations to living wages and supporting environmental organizations.”

CECP’s “pulse” polls are among five significant data sets that will be revealed at COMMIT!Forum.  Other research to be shared includes:

  • Updates to the highly respected Cone Communications annual CSR study showing “It’s no longer what you stand for, but what you stand up for.” The Omnicom-owned firm found, for example, 78 percent of Americans want companies to address important social justice issues.
  • Details of a Corporate Citizenship survey, currently in the field, of the status of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The consultancy also has details on how the Fortune 50 are embracing the Global Goals.
  • The cost of a bad corporate reputation on the ability to recruit and retain employees will be presented in the context of research from the human resources outsourcing firm Cielo.
  • Authenticity in corporate messaging, a data mining project conducted by ManpowerGroup Solutions among 14,000 job applicants. The study will reveal insights into the role corporate responsibility plays in talent acquisition.

What do brands take a stand for and against? 

In Austin, Texas, public outcry from a consortium of public and private companies has hobbled attempts this summer to adopt legislation that would restrict transgender people from using the bathrooms of their choice. Among large corporations using advertising, public relations, lobbying and other advocacy campaign tactics to oppose the bill are American Airlines, Apple, Amazon, Capital One, Dell, Facebook, IBM, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines.

“Why Texas? And why now? On July 18, the Texas Legislature will start a 30-day special session, where it is likely some will try to advance a discriminatory ‘bathroom bill’ similar to the one that passed in North Carolina last year,” wrote Diane Gherson, IBM’s senior vice president for human resources, in an internal memo sent to IBM employees around the world. “It is our goal to convince Texas elected officials to abandon these efforts.”

In North Carolina last year, the National Collegiate Athletic Association threatened not to hold NCAA basketball playoff games in the state if laws remained in place discriminating against transgender people.  Salesforce, Apple, Marriott International, Angie’s List, Levi Strauss and Gap and other companies protested an Indiana law that would have allowed business owners to refuse to serve LGBTQ and other customers based on religious grounds.

Immigration reform has been a hot button issue for corporations. In January, hundreds of CEOs of New York tech companies including Blue Apron, Etsy and Warby Parker called on the Trump administration to rescind an executive order suspending entry for citizens of certain countries and ending refugee programs.

Dave Armon is CEO of the Corporate Responsibility Board and publisher of CR Magazine.

Image credit: Flickr / Guillaume Paumier

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