Press releases and statements have struck like a blizzard. Just days after supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol in a deadly attempt to block certification of election results, many U.S. companies have signaled they have had enough.
Social media platforms have banned the president, universities have revoked honorary degrees, and the Professional Golfers Association of America has withdrawn its championship from Trump’s golf course. The banks have said they will no longer lend him money, and New York City has announced that it is cutting trade ties with the Trump organization.
More than a dozen companies, meanwhile, have suspended political contributions to Republicans who voted against President-elect Joe Biden’s certification of victory. Dozens more have frozen all their political donations. One company – Hallmark – asked two lawmakers to return the money they received.
Apple and Google Play have removed Parler, a social media platform favored by white supremacists and others on the far right, from their app stores. Amazon has pulled services for Parler, which effectively shut it down.
Some have applauded the unprecedented wave of actions – US companies have finally “woken up”. Others wondered if it was too little too late – or just a performative gesture meant to protect profits.
But what pundits and analysts agree is that the past 13 days could represent the start of real change in America’s business community, one that will require much more work and compel companies. to look inward and make changes that better reflect concerns and values. of their employees, consumers and other stakeholders.
The strong reaction from the business community to the Capitol Riot is something long overdue, said Paul Argenti, professor of corporate communications at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College.
“It’s a shame we didn’t get these kinds of comments sooner,” Argenti told Al Jazeera. “When there is an attack on the nation’s capital and people die, then it is almost impossible to rule out the notion of a response. So I think [business leaders] were at a point where companies had to take a stand, they were getting the warmth of their employees, their customers and just their own conscience.
However, taking a real stand will require more corporate commitment than the largely symbolic action of temporarily halting campaign donations after the election is held, experts say.
I don’t think it’s an accident that this particular wave of moral awareness came right after Georgia’s run-off, where suddenly Democrats are going to have power in the executive and congressional branches.
It’s easier and less risky for companies to put political donations on hold right after the end of an election cycle when they typically give politicians less money anyway. It’s also easy to denounce Republicans after learning that Democrats will control the White House and both houses of Congress after further Senate second-round victories in Georgia this month.
“I don’t think it’s an accident that this particular wave of moral conscience came right after Georgia’s run-off, where all of a sudden Democrats are going to have power in the executive and congressional branches,” Mary-Hunter McDonnell, professor management associate at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, told Al Jazeera.
“Businesses also tend to behave a lot more when worried about political intervention,” she added, citing calls from progressive Democrats for Biden to implement stricter regulations and oversight. increased government over large corporations.
“Depending on what’s going on with this regulatory front and what happens when Democrats hang on to the House and Senate, you can see businesses revert to their old ways as soon as they no longer feel threatened. . “
McDonnell believes, however, that the actions companies are taking this month represent genuine moral conscience – a development she attributes to a shift “from shareholder primacy to stakeholder primacy.”
“Much of the activism for corporate control that you see comes from increased collective action by employees,” she said.
Employee activism has exploded in recent years, with workers pressuring companies to get involved in social causes and other issues that affect their workforce and communities.
While it’s not clear whether pressure from employees at big tech companies like Facebook and Twitter ultimately led those companies to kick Trump from their platforms (many companies insist this was not the case. ), it is undeniable that workers are pushing the needle on social issues.
“Employees have developed many new ways to have their voices heard by the board and management of the company,” McDonnell said. “At the same time, a lot of research over the past few years has provided very strong evidence that companies who stand up for the values of their employees are rewarded in all kinds of market-relevant ways by those employees,” including in terms of recruitment, retention and productivity.
The pressure from employees to take a stand was particularly heightened during the Trump era. It was exposed at the height of the #MeToo movement, at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and particularly during this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests against the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other non-black people. armed.
Businesses large and small have condemned the killings, and some have pledged to invest in black communities and work for racial equity in their workforces.
American companies are only loyal to capitalism. In the 10 days before this administration ended, they are removing this person from the platforms that he has used for years to the great detriment.
Mimi Fox Melton is the Vice President of Programs for CODE2040, an organization that works for the proportional representation of Blacks and Latinxes at all levels of leadership in the tech industry.
“We have seen a huge increase in interest in our programs after the murder of George Floyd,” Fox Melton said.
“A lot of the companies that contacted actually paid money and made a commitment to at least racial equity in hiring internships,” she told Al Jazeera.
But as the protests died down, some companies backed off some of those commitments, including asking CODE2040 to release them from aspects of their commitments or change the language from “racial fairness” to “employee engagement.” ”Or“ diversity ”.
It’s a reality Fox Melton fears playing into the business community after Biden takes office and the Capitol seat fades from public attention.
“American businesses are only loyal to capitalism,” she said. “In the 10 days leading up to the end of this administration, they are removing this person from the platforms he has used for years to the great detriment.”
Yet Fox Melton is hoping that the organization that is already carried out by employees, groups like CODE2040 and consumers can pressure business leaders to meet their commitments and also “deter companies from making platitudes. similar in the future that they really don’t mean ”.
‘In him to earn it’
The United States has seen significant initiatives from companies, even in recent months. Along with organizers and black groups, businesses were instrumental in the voting effort, says Ashley Spillane, president and founder of Impactual, a social impact consultancy. Companies provided information on how to vote and how to vote early, and encouraged people to become polling agents.
“It was a huge factor in boosting turnout and historic levels, but also in making sure people were safe while participating in elections during a pandemic,” Spillane told Al Jazeera, noting that recent research from the public relations firm Edleman revealed that companies are more trusted than NGOs, the media and the government.
At the end of the day, employees and customers are watching whether companies stand by their statements and actions, Dartmouth College Argenti said. If companies don’t, they risk being accused of “wake-up calls.”
While some incidents – like the Capitol siege – still warrant answers from companies, Argenti said, companies should let three questions guide their approach: Does the problem fit with your company’s strategy? Can you significantly influence the problem? Will your constituencies be willing to express themselves?
If a company answers ‘yes’ to all three questions, it’s time to take a stand, Argenti said. If a business answers “no” to two or more, it may be better to wait.
And once a business makes a commitment, it needs to follow through, Argenti says. “Once you’re there, you better be there to earn it.”