Brands Taking Stands | 3BL Forum Offers Brands Taking Stands 3.0

Oct 31, 2018 12:15 PM ET
Newsletter

THE BIG STORY

3BL Forum Offers Brands Taking Stands 3.0

The 2018 annual 3BL Forum has come and gone, but its impact will be reverberating throughout the corporate responsibility field for some time to come. For the over 300 CR professionals, CEOs, sustainability executives, and journalists who gathered at the MGM National Harbor, just outside Washington D.C., the 3BL Forum was a fast-paced, idea-packed two days of panels, breakout sessions, issue tables, one-on-one interviews, and networking. Surprising analysis, new research, opinionated viewpoints, and frank commentaries—this conference was a business as unusual meeting from start to finish. Arguably, what got discussed at the event was a 3.0 version of Brands Taking Stands, one in which companies announced a wide variety of approaches to the rapidly evolving complexities of this still nascent movement.
 
Titled “Brands Taking StandsTM — The Long View,” the agenda delivered many deep insights as promised, but also offered perspectives as broad as they were deep.
 
That wider view was on display in the Town Hall session, which brought together senior corporate leaders and journalists to explore various stances within the overall concept of brands taking stands. Sherrie Deane, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association Foundation, voiced her organization’s principle of supporting allNBA players who take public positions, including those with right-wing views. Eli Stokols, White House reporter for the Los Angeles Times, laid out the conundrum of covering a deliberately confrontational administration, which forces journalists to question their tradition of objectivity. Jessica Herrera-Flanigan EVP, government and corporate affairs for Univision Communications, told the back story about how the Spanish-language television network was the first corporation to pull away from the current administration, cutting broadcasting ties with the Trump Organization, because of anti-immigrant remarks made when candidate Trump announced his candidacy. And this was just one-half of this provocative panel’s exchange.
 
Also eye opening were presentations by companies not often considered through a CR filter. In a one-on-one interview which I conducted with Altria’s Jennifer Hunter, we discussed the sobering issues of harm reduction and underage use associated with tobacco use, and how the company has focused on those health issues with major programs. On a panel about legacy firms, Smithfield Farms’ Bill Gill talked about that company’s responsibility for operational excellence and innovation in a meat packing industry with a low reputation for both. Confirming their respective commitments at the Forum, both companies made subsequent announcements that matched actions to their words. 

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NEWS YOU CAN USE

Four More Takeaways from the 3BL Forum

The “Prove Your Purpose” blog from Cone Communications is a useful source of news about the brands takings stands movement. In their latest edition, the PR agency outlines four “need to know” insights from the 3BL Forum. The toplines are 1) Leaders Must Encourage Other Leaders 2) Profitable Sustainability Sells 3) Go Big, Then Adapt 4) Civic Engagement is Transforming Employee Engagement. Cone’s bottom line: “As the conference neared a close on Thursday, a Town Hall session explored the concept of brands taking stands as either a moment or a movement. Most experts agreed it was a movement – and one continuing to gain traction. And until we reconvene at 3BL Forum 2019, we’ll be sure to track the evolution of this movement, because as Sherrie Deans, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association Foundation, put it: “Few of us have the option to stay on the side line.” See the details here. 

Tech Companies Struggle with Stands Driven by Employee Activism

The tech industry, once a “golden” sector that could do no wrong, now finds itself beset with ethical issues on which it is being forced to make choices. Google has announced it would disallow its algorithms to be used in weapons systems, and also declined to bid on a $10 billion Pentagon contract for cloud computing infrastructure. The company’s employees have been publicly active in protesting Google’s engagement with the military. Previously, thousands of Google employees had demanded that the company cancel a Defense Department contract to scan drone footage; according to the Washington Post, the company did not cancel the contract but publicly announced it would not renew it.

Conversely, Microsoft and Amazon announced that they would submit bids to the Defense Department for the  $10 billion contract to build AI into its operations, despite some public protests by their employees, conveyed in a pair of anonymous posts on the website Medium, “in which self-described employees of Amazon and Microsoft raised concerns
over the tech companies’ relationship with the Defense Department.”
 
In an open letter, Microsoft’s President Brad Smith and Chief Executive Satya Nadelladescribed a new concept to address these’ concerns: “talent mobility,” a process to allow workers to opt out of working on a project with which they disagree.
 
“We understand that some of our employees may have different views,” Smith wrote.
 
“We don’t ask or expect everyone who works at Microsoft to support every position the company takes. We also respect the fact that some employees work in or may be citizens of other countries, and they may not want to work on certain projects. As is always the case, if our employees want to work on a different project or team — for whatever reason — we want them to know we support talent mobility.”
 
Meanwhile, some other leading tech companies took opposite positions on Prop C, a ballot initiative that would levy a tax on big San Francisco businesses to raise an estimated $250 million to help fight homelessness in the city. Lyft, Stripe, Square, and notably, Twitter, have funded campaigns against the measure, claiming that it is a misguided effort. On the other side, Salesforce’s CEO Marc Benioff is an outspoken supporter of the measure.

A recent rally by tech workers in the city spelled out the terms of the debate:

“These companies pushed for tax breaks to relocate here in San Francisco and now with their billions in wealth, companies like Square, Lyft and Stripe, who have a combined worth of $65bn, are bankrolling ‘No on C’ to keep the status quo,” Evan Owski, an engineer at LinkedIn, said.
 
“Tech is part of the problem and now we’re demanding that they be part of the solution. We demand as workers and as the people of San Francisco that tech companies and tech leaders support ‘Yes on C’.”
 
Watch for more ethical dilemmas to erupt in Silicon Valley as the tech industry deals with the key issues of the day—and with a workforce that has strong opinions about them, and is not afraid to speak out.

C-SUITE COMMENTS

“Very often, so much of what a product ends up being able to do isn’t what you initially thought. If you’re creating something new, it is inevitable there will be consequences that were not foreseen — some that will be great, and then there are those that aren’t as positive. There is a responsibility to try and predict as many of the consequences as possible and I think you have a moral responsibility to try to understand, try to mitigate those that you didn’t predict.
 
If you genuinely have a concern for humanity, you will be preoccupied with trying to understand the implications, the consequences of creating something that hasn’t existed before.”

 
—Sir Jony Ive, Chief Design Officer of Apple and Chancellor of the Royal College of Art in London
 
Excerpted from the Financial Times

PEOPLE ON THE MOVE

Robbie Lock has been appointed Executive Director, 3BL Association. He previously worked at the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners; as Sustainability Manager at VF Corporation; and as a sustainability consultant for the Context Group, and for the NYC Departments of Education and Sanitation.
 
Cathy S. Woollums has been appointed Senior Vice President, Chief Sustainability Officer, for Berkshire Hathaway Energy. She had previously served as SVP, Environmental and Chief Environmental Counsel for the company for 27 years.

Guillermo Miranda has been appointed Vice President & Global Head, IBM Corporate Citizenship. He previously served as Chief Learning Officer, People & Organization Head, and HR Director – Talent/Africa, Middle East & Latin America. Prior to IBM, Miranda was an advisory board member for IPCOM Global and Chief HR Director for the Inter American Development Bank Group.

Margret Trilli has joined the executive leadership team at ImpactAssets as President and Chief Investment Officer. Trilli’s career includes executive leadership, investment and operating roles for large and small companies, including Barclays Global Investors/Blackrock and Charles Schwab. She founded Intentional Capital, a boutique private equity firm serving custom direct investments to a select group of family offices. Founder Tim Freundlich has been promoted to Chief Executive Officer.
 
Eric Stephenson has joined Align Impact, a financial advisory, as Director of Client Services. He will also be a member of the firm’s Investment Committee. Stephenson joins from the Cordes Foundation, where he served as Portfolio Director. He was previously on the fund investments team at Hamilton Lane and the global leasing group at Xerox.

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