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Tina Casey headshot

Global Compact Calls on Sustainable Businesses to Combat Authoritarianism in the U.S: Will They, or Won’t They?

By Tina Casey
Global Compact

Thousands of U.S. companies have signed onto the United Nations Global Compact, which calls upon sustainable businesses to “create the world we want.” That goal is running up hard against the authoritarian trend in national politics. With the Compact slated to meet later this week, it is incumbent upon U.S. business leaders to act in support of voting rights and the democratic process here in the U.S., as well as abroad.

The Global Compact is more than an environmental sustainability movement

The U.N. Global Compact is organized as a platform for sustainable business. Much of its recent activity has been centered on climate action and other environmental areas. However, environmental sustainability is only one feature of its 10 underlying principles.

“Corporate sustainability starts with a company’s value system and a principles-based approach to doing business. This means operating in ways that, at a minimum, meet fundamental responsibilities in the areas of human rights, labor, environment and anti-corruption,” the Compact states.

“Responsible businesses enact the same values and principles wherever they have a presence, and know that good practices in one area do not offset harm in another,” the Compact continues.

U.S. sustainability leaders should be embarrassed

As a global endeavor that includes 12,000 companies in 160 companies, the Global Compact does not make judgements on many matters pertaining to cultural norms and political systems. However, it does render forceful judgement on practices that violate fundamental values, and one of those values is racial equality.

That focus has become a keen embarrassment for U.S. corporations that seek to build a socially responsible profile as members of the Global Compact.

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Many U.S. business leaders profess concern over racial equality, and many say they have taken meaningful steps to tear down institutional barriers within their operations. However, large swaths of the U.S. public, and many of their elected representatives, are in deep denial over the persistent fallout from the nation’s history of legally sanctioned slavery.

Former President Donald Trump and other Republican politicians did not hesitate to gin up white rage in the run-up to the failed insurrection of January 6. In the aftermath of that violence, The 1619 Project and the formerly obscure academic field of critical race theory have become the latest targets for white outrage, even as the counter-movement grows against oppressive economic and legal practices and institutionalized white-on-Black violence grows.

Taking a stand on anti-Asian violence

Violence and institutionalized racism are also dark hallmarks of the Asian American experience in the U.S. It has simmered under the surface in recent decades, but former President Trump brought it to a new boil while in office by conferring the imprimatur of official presidential approval on the “China virus” canard in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A sharp upswing in physical attacks on Asians in America began last year during Trump’s term in office. The violence has persisted into the Joe Biden administration, concurrent with Trump’s continued influence over the Republican party.

Earlier this year, Sanda Ojiambo, the CEO and executive director of the Global Compact, called the U.S. business community to account for standing by while the nation logs one violent anti-Asian episode after another.

"As we mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on Sunday 21 March, we are reminded by the horrific acts of violence against the Asian community in the United States this week that racism is an everyday occurrence in almost every country and every city,” she wrote, in an official statement for the Global Compact.

Ojiambo also issued a direct rebuke to the former president and other Republican officials who have spread the “China virus” canard.

“It is important that we recognize that these intolerable acts of hate have resulted from xenophobia, misinformation and unchallenged stereotypes,” he explained. “Globally, the COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed social and economic inequalities rooted in racism and discrimination.”

Ojiambo also segued neatly from the focus on anti-Asian violence in the U.S., to the imperative for businesses to speak out against all forms of racism.

“Our ambition to create the world we want, must be a world based on inclusivity and sustainability. This requires us to acknowledge and speak out against racism in all its forms,” she concluded. “Our duty, as responsible global citizens, is to eradicate it.”

Anti-democracy as a feature, not a bug

As applied to the U.S., Ojiambo’s insistence on the eradication in “racism in all its forms” is clearly a call for U.S. business leaders to speak out more forcefully against the torrent of anti-Black voter suppression legislation sweeping across almost every state in the U.S.

Unfortunately, the time for speech has passed. The anti-democratic movement is in full force in the U.S.

Though many business leaders decried the January 6 insurrection, as a group they failed to follow through. They have continued to support the 147 Republican members of Congress who openly supported the insurrection when they voted against certification of the Electoral College results on the evening of January 6, and they have failed to stop the state lawmakers who support legislation that makes it harder for Black voters and other people of color to cast a ballot.

Democracy advocates have begun to raise concerns that actions of January 6 were no mere performative stunt by 147 Republican members of Congress. It was a test run for the ability of anti-democratic activists to exploit the Electoral College, a feature of the U.S. Constitution that enables a minority of the electorate to steamroll over the will of the majority and hand the reins of power to an unpopular leader.

The filibuster solution

The subjugation of the popular will to the Electoral College has already happened five times in U.S. history. The first three times occurred during and before 1888, a year in which the nation consisted of only 38 states.

After 1888 the popular vote prevailed as new states were added, including North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, and finally Alaska and Hawaii in 1959. Incidentally, several of those states were added to the U.S. as the Republican party in the 1880s saw their admission as one tactic to hold onto power.

However, in more recent years the Electoral College has once again exercised its power over the will of the majority. Two of the last four Republican presidential candidates, George H. Bush in 2000 and Trump in 2016, gained the Oval Office despite losing the popular vote.

The 2000 Bush win saw a narrow margin of approximately 500,000 votes, but the Trump win was a significant disconnect between the popular will and the Electoral result.

“Trump won the Electoral College, 304 electoral votes to Hillary Clinton’s 227 — but lost the popular count by 2.8 million votes,” the Associated Press has explained. “Though the electorate has of course grown over the years, Trump lost the popular vote by a greater margin than anyone ever elected president.”

Abolishing the Electoral College is a challenge that will take years, if it happens at all. Another significant, undemocratic feature of the U.S. political system, however, will be relatively easy to overturn.

That is the U.S. Senate filibuster, a practice that enables the minority party in the Senate to block legislation supported by the majority.

The Senate filibuster is not written into the Constitution. It is a quirk of Senate “tradition” that the Senate itself has suspended as needed.

The Global Compact agenda for its upcoming meeting outlines the organization’s intention to “drive collective action on focused issues to make lasting change.” Business leaders who truly care about American democracy will use that global platform to focus attention on the role of the Senate filibuster in perpetuating inequality and structural racism in the U.S., and advocate federal laws that make it easier, not harder, for every eligible voter to cast a ballot.

Image credit: Colin Lloyd/Unsplash

Tina Casey headshot

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.

Read more stories by Tina Casey