by Vikas Vij — As expectations rise for companies to engage with the communities through communications, advocacy or legal means – and as the implications for business become clearer – more companies are speaking up to influence the discussion on social causes.
According to a new study by the Public Affairs Council (PAC), major corporations are facing pressure from various stakeholders, including their own employees and customers, to weigh in on social issues. The study titled “Taking a Stand: How Corporations Speak Out on Social Issues” analyzes the results of a poll of 92 businesses about their growing need to address social challenges.
The study reveals that employees have been highly influential when companies have chosen to get involved in social issues. The next most influential stakeholder group has been customers. Companies headquartered in the U.S. were more influenced than their non-U.S.-headquartered peers by advocacy groups (41% vs. 18%), shareholders (39% vs. 9%) and political leaders (22% vs. 9%).
The survey of businesses across industries finds that over the last three years, 60 percent have experienced rising stakeholder pressure to speak out on social issues such as discrimination, sustainability, education and human rights. What’s more, 74 percent of the respondents said they expect the pressure to further increase over the next three years.
More than half of the companies surveyed have been involved in efforts to end discrimination and restrictions based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Expectations for involvement are the highest among companies with more than $15 billion in annual revenue. More than 75 percent of these companies said they experienced increased pressure to weigh in on social issues. A large number of companies said they were most involved recently in efforts to protect the environment (74%), end discrimination or restrictions based on sexual orientation (59%) or gender (54%), improve access to quality education (59%), protect human rights abroad (49%) and end discrimination/restrictions based on gender identity (52%).
The most common strategies adopted by companies in their social issue advocacy efforts have been to join a coalition, lobby at the state or local level, distribute a press release or public statement, lobby at the federal level, sign a petition, publish a formal policy position or conduct media interviews.
The President of PAC, Doug Pinkham, summed up the findings of the survey by saying that many of the pressing social issues are now viewed as business issues. They affect a company’s ability to attract and retain talent and meet the expectations of customers. The involvement of leading companies also demonstrates the belief that it is possible for a firm to be financially successful while protecting the environment and supporting local communities.