As public awareness grows over the conditions migrant children in U.S. custody are enduring, leading companies have largely refrained from public comment. One notable exception is the publisher Highlights for Children, Inc. A look at the company’s response indicates how corporate citizens can take a strong stand on a matter of broad social concern without running into partisan politics.
Highlights posted a sharp, clearly worded statement about the border crisis on Twitter on Tuesday, using the hashtag #KeepFamiliesTogether (and this announcement, as of press time, has been trending on Twitter).
The statement, signed by Highlights CEO Kent Johnson, does not call out the Donald Trump administration by name over the president’s immigration policy.
Instead, Highlights focuses on the contrast between its mission and the conditions recently reported by visitors to one of the detention facilities.
Highlights begins by affirming that it is “a company that helps children become their best selves.” Notably, that includes encouraging children to “understand the importance of having moral courage.”
Highlights goes on to provide a common sense definition for moral courage:
“Moral courage means standing up for what we believe is right, honest, and ethical — even when it is hard.”
That sets Highlights up with a politically neutral platform. From there, denouncing the practice of separating immigrant children from their families is a simple matter of moral reasoning.
“This is not a political statement about immigration policy,” Highlights asserts. “This is a statement about human decency, plain and simple.”
Just as importantly, Highlights urges others to join the public conversation:
“We invite you — regardless of your political leanings — to join us in speaking out against family separation and to call for more humane treatment of immigrant children currently being held in detention facilities.”
It remains to be seen if Highlights can succeed in avoiding a partisan backlash. At the very least, though, the company has accomplished one important goal. By using its voice to join the public conversation over a matter of broad public concern, the company has affirmed its corporate mission and preserved its brand reputation.
Taking a clear stand on the treatment of immigrants becomes all the more important as others begin to stake out the moral high ground.
One standout example is the online fabric arts company Ravelry. Last week, Ravelry banned users from expressing support for President Trump on their site, stating that “support for President Trump is undeniably support for white supremacy."
In another significant development this week, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services asylum officers are reportedly taking legal action against the Trump administration’s policy of forcing migrants to wait for their U.S. asylum hearings in Mexico.
Arguing in court that the policy puts lives at risk, the officers assert that the policy is “fundamentally contrary to the moral fabric of our Nation.”
In this context, the Highlights strategy presents a stark contrast to the situation of the furnishing company Wayfair.
Wayfair employees took action last week when they became aware that their company was selling hundreds of mattresses and bunk beds destined for a children’s detention facility. Last Friday, more than 500 employees signed an open letter criticizing the company’s decision to enable, support, or profit from the Trump administration’s immigration policies.
This week they followed up with a walkout demonstration at the company’s headquarters in Boston, placing Wayfair squarely in the spotlight of unfavorable media attention.
Complicity in children’s detention is clearly inconsistent with Wayfair’s mission statement on charitable giving, which reads, “we believe that a secure home is not only a basic human need but also the foundation for well-being.”
Neverthless, so far the company has refrained from criticizing the immigration policy. Instead, it asserted a bottom-line responsibility to do business with all legitimate customers, regardless of their activities or opinions.
Far from smoothing the waters, Wayfair’s response only served to keep the issue alive, and the employee group intends to keep the conversation going.
Finding the ethical center
Other high-profile companies, like Google and Amazon, are also facing employee protests over a failure to match their corporate responsibility words with actions.
They would do well to borrow a page from the Highlights book and take a close look at trends in public opinion.
In fact, they could start with Highlights. The company regularly surveys children about their concerns. Last fall it issued its 10th annual “State of the Kid” survey.
Overall, the survey indicates that “kids have a lot on their minds and they aren’t afraid to speak up.”
Highlights sums it up:
“The results, garnered on the heels of a number of significant events that saw kids standing up and speaking out like never before, are reflective of their demands for change, which made 2018 a critically important year for listening to children.”
As the immigration issue continues to dominate the public conversation, Wayfair and companies like it would be well served to listen to their employees, too.
Image credits: Highlights/Facebook
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.