Brands Taking Stands | A Movement, Not a Moment, Say Corporate Leaders

Nov 28, 2018 11:45 AM ET
Newsletter

THE BIG STORY

A Movement, Not a Moment, Say Corporate Leaders

As a journalist, I’ve always searched out cultural trends as I saw them developing, in a constant search for “what’s next.”
 
“What’s next” is, of course, of major importance to business. Looking ahead to map out strategy is critical to continued success. But which trends are the right ones with which to align future plans? Which ones will matter months, even years, down the line?
 
What business strategists, and those of us who report on their projections, are on the lookout for is a trend that becomes much more than a cultural snapshot. We’re talking about a defining idea of the zeitgeist that carries large, long-lasting consequences for society as well as for business—in a phrase, a movement--not a moment.
 
In this newsletter, we’ve argued since its beginning that Brands Taking Stands is such an idea. Now, we have some numbers to back up that claim. New research finds that eight-out-of-10 corporate leaders believe companies have an obligation to speak out on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues. That’s according to a survey on brand advocacy conducted by GlobeScan and 3BL Media.

Results from the survey were debuted last month at the 3BL Forum. The report defines the Brands Taking Stands movement succinctly: “A growing roster of Blue Chip companies are using their powerful voices to urge continued U.S. support of the Paris Climate Agreement, to strengthen gun control laws, to fight immigration laws that would negatively impact Dreamers, to champion diversity and inclusion, and to protect LGBTQ rights, among other hot-button and often political issues.”
 
The future workforce and brand reputation are revealed as the two principle reasons for the movement. “The tightening labor market, specifically competitive pressure for companies to recruit and retain talent, is a key driver of the Brands Taking Stands movement, followed by efforts to protect and enhance corporate reputation.”

Key findings include:

  • 82 percent of respondents said it is necessary for companies today to advocate for or take a stand on ESG issues.
  • 62 percent felt that advocacy by CEOs, rather than by the company more broadly, will increase in the next 18 months.
  • When asked to specify the three highest priorities for their organizations over the next 18 months, top responses were brand values, climate and environment, and diversity and inclusion.
  • Motivators for companies to take stands on ESG topics were to 1) enhance their reputation, 2) show a commitment beyond profit, and to 3) meet employee expectations.
  • Benefits of speaking out are 1) personnel recruitment, 2) employee retention and 3) brand equity.

“It’s early days for this movement,” said Eric Whan, a GlobeScan director. “Ben & Jerry’s, Tom’s of Maine and Patagonia and others have been doing this for a while. Now, others are finding that it is in their own interest and that of their stakeholders to take a position rather than ducking.”

Read more >>>

NEWS YOU CAN USE

Walmart, Pfizer, Amgen, and Others Cite “Values” in Asking for Return of Political Donations
Principles and politics clashed when a number of companies requested the return of their donations to the campaign of Mississippi Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith. The companies made the requests publicly, even though Hyde-Smith is currently a sitting senator and won election to her previously appointed seat.

Walmart, Major League Baseball, Pfizer, Amgen, Union Pacific, Leidos, Boston Scientific, and AT&T were among those reported as making the requests. The senator had referred to her high regard for a supporter by saying she would attend a public hanging in the front row if he invited her. Mississippi is credited with the highest number of recorded lynchings in the country: 581 from 1882 to 1961 (many others went unrecorded). Hyde-Smith said she was sorry if she offended anyone. She was also photographed wearing a Confederate soldier’s cap about which she said, “Mississippi history at its best.”

In requesting the return of their donations, some companies made public statements about their values. Walmart said: "Senator Hyde-Smith’s recent comments clearly do not reflect the values of our company and associates. As a result, we are withdrawing our support and requesting a refund of all campaign donations." Pfizer said: “We condemn racism and bigotry in all its forms.” Amgen said: “Amgen is committed to a culture of diversity and inclusion. We believe that an environment of diversity and inclusion fosters innovation, which drives our ability to serve patients."

The public withdrawal of support for an elected federal senator echoes the actions of those companies who withdrew their financial support from eight-term Representative Steven King, who also recently won re-election. Land O’Lakes, Purina, and Intel were among the businesses who publicly withdrew their previous support for the congressman, known for his bigoted comments about immigrants.

Going forward into the 2020 elections, more companies will undoubtedly take a closer look at the recipients of their corporate donations, which until recently have been a pro-forma exercise. Many companies donate to both parties to avoid being seen as taking sides and choosing favorites, and to ensure some leverage with whomever is elected to office. In the future, even if elected, legislators who spout polarizing rhetoric might find significant corporate support withheld—even if it might be to the benefit of those companies to be aligned with serving officials. The calculation being made by these businesses is that putting off consumers and customers who protest is more threatening to a company’s reputation—and profits—than backing legislatively helpful politicians who traffic in demonstrably racist comments.

More Shootings, More Stands: TOMS Takes on Gun Control
Immigration has grabbed more headlines lately as the hot-button issue of the moment, but the effects of earlier shootings at a Thousand Oaks, California bar, a Tallahasee, Florida yoga studio, and a Pittsburgh synagogue continue to evoke corporate response. Blake Mycoskie, founder of the buy-a-pair-give-a-pair shoe brand TOMS, has announced a $5 million donation to several groups advocating for gun control laws, among them Giffords, Everytown for Gun Safety, Moms Demand Action, and March for Our Lives.

Mycoskie told the Daily News, “These groups are ‘the most amazing organizations who are working hard on the ground every day to end gun violence.”

TOMS’ website now features a section where viewers can sign up online to have postcards sent to their representatives in Congress demanding legislation to curb gun violence.

Mycoskie cited concerns by his family for their safety as the key driver behind his decision. It’s another example of how much immediate impact can be delivered by a company for a cause when the impetus comes from the top down. 

Taking a Stand Puts Airbnb Between a Rock and Hard Place
Is there a definitive position to be taken by a global company about the Israeli-Palestinian situation that could be adopted without creating controversy? Airbnb doesn’t think so now, following its announcement about a policy change to remove its listings in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. “We know that people will disagree with this decision and appreciate their perspective,” the company said in a statement. “This is a controversial issue.” That’s turned out to be an understatement, as Airbnb has been criticized from all sides. Amnesty International expressed approval but said Airbnb should do more, while the Simon Wiesenthal Center--a group dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism--called for a boycott, reports the Wall Street Journal.

The company framed the decision as part of its global review of how it conducts business in “occupied territories” around the world. In addition to calling Israel “a special place” with over 22,000 Airbnb hosts, the company said it will apply its “new framework for evaluating such listings” in other disputed regions, naming Crimea as another example of listings removal.

Airbnb’s announcement also referenced its Community Commitment, which “requires all members of our community to affirmatively agree to ‘treat everyone in the Airbnb Community – regardless of their race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or age – with respect, and without judgment or bias.’”
 
This move will make for an unusually compelling case study of how a global brand deals directly with hot-button political issues. You could argue that complaints from both sides of the disputed region might indicate that the company has chosen the best available course to navigate troubled political waters—for now.

C-SUITE COMMENTS

“We will never ever let our culture not permeate through the deepest depths of our organization. Our company culture and values is truly the most sacred thing we have in our company. We hold it on such high ground and tend to it every day, and it is truly the backbone of our success. I couldn’t imagine operating in an environment without a great culture and great values, you’d be finished. To build a successful company, you better be a values-driven organization and have a great company culture.”

—Cameron Mitchell, president and founder, Cameron Mitchell Restaurants
excerpted from Chief Executive

PEOPLE ON THE MOVE

Katherine Jensen has been named head of corporate social responsibility and executive director of The Vertex Foundation.  Jensen spent 10 years leading global CSR efforts for AbbVie and Abbott Laboratories. Previously, Ms. Jensen worked at APCO Worldwide where she advised Fortune 100 clients on CSR programs and reporting.
 
Sheryl Telford has been appointed by The World Environment Center to its board of directors. Telford leads corporate responsibility and environmental health and safetyat Chemours. Prior to joining Chemours, Telford held positions of increasing responsibility at DuPont, PSE&G, and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. Telford sits on the Board of Delegates of the National Safety Council and the Board of Directors of the Wildlife Habitat Council. 

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