Plato argued that everyone has an obligation to participate in politics… and although the share of the population that actively engages in elections is a challenging issue for many governments, the current reality is possibly closest to Plato’s vision than ever before. If before people would discuss political and social issues around the dining table with their families, during coffee breaks at work or while having drinks with their friends, today our opinions and voices have a much larger platform. In the current age of social media, we can maintain the conversation at any time, amongst different age and gender groups, and across borders. It has probably never been easier to publicly express a personal opinion. Moreover, given the current geopolitical turmoil, it probably hasn’t been so tempting to express these opinions in a long time.
This rise of political activism has been very prominent among different public figures, such as celebrities or athletes. Take for example Meryl Streep’s public stance on Trump, or the case of NFL player protests during the national anthem. Naturally, the same trend also occurs in the business realm, as discussed in one of my previous blog entries on CEO activism. A recent NY Times article sheds a new light on the matter though, arguing that CEO activism is not so much a matter of choice anymore…
According to the author Aaron K. Chatterji, an Associate Professor of business and public policy, in this new world of politics there is ever increasing pressure for businesses to take a clear stance on any bigger social issue. Keeping neutrality doesn’t seem to be a choice anymore. Speaking specifically of the U.S. reality, Professor Chatterji argues that the political environment, which has shifted from efforts to unite the population towards further divisions between conservatives and liberals, now dictates corporate strategy.
In the wake of the Florida school shooting, Georgia’s largest private-sector business Delta Air Lines took a stance on the matter of gun control by ending a promotional discount with the NRA. The decision resulted in a conservative backlash, and loss of a considerable tax break as well as loyalty of conservative clients. As such, Delta’s decision might have been attractive to its democratic client base while losing points with republicans – taking a stance impacts the client base, satisfying some and enraging others.
At the same time, not taking any stance or inaction doesn’t seem an option either. In the case of gun control and the NRA, companies that didn’t take any action to boycott the NRA, felt repercussions too. For example, the cargo firm FedEx, which didn’t change favorable rates for the NRA, got its negative social media feedback, such as this Tweet: ‘@FedEx…You’re a business, you CHOOSE to charge the NRA less. So, the rest of us will stop using your services’. Silence is dangerous.
Although pressures for CEO activism are most prominent in the U.S., it is probably just a matter of time before the same applies for multinationals across the globe.