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Corporate Social Responsibility, CSR, has been around for decades, but a new, aggressive Corporate Social Activism took a big leap in year 2020.  

“Through pronouncements, policies, boycotts, sponsorships, lobbying, and fundraising, corporations are actively engaged in issues like immigration reform, gun regulation, racial justice, gender equality, and religious freedom. This is the new reality of business and social activism in America.”

Such corporate social activism is no longer about ethics but ideology. “In a highly polarized and fragmented society such as the one we live in, taking a political stand and engaging in social activism means supporting one ideology and one party over another. We can certainly see how this could become a breeding ground for controversy and contention not seen through traditional corporate social responsibility measures.”

Here are a few examples:

-Nike’s collaboration with Colin Kaepernick.

-Starbucks embrace of LGBTQ+ causes, including informing stockholders that if they didn’t like it, they could leave.

-Chick-fil-A’s stance, based on religious views, against LGBTQ+ causes and later reset indicating the company welcomed and would serve any customer.

-Innumerable companies, including professional sports, Amazon, Facebook, promoting Black Lives Matter the organization and other “social justice” causes.

-Big Tech banning Donald Trump permanently from their communication apps.

-Dick’s Sporting Goods deciding not to sell guns.

-Big box discount stores, including Walmart, deciding not to sell ammunition that can be used in semi-automatic rifles and handguns, then Walmart returning guns and ammo to their stores.

-Corporations increasingly making “anti-racism” policies a required part of their employee training.

This list does not include companies that have rushed to establish COVID-19 protocols.

Some backlash to corporate social activism is possible:  Assistant Professor of Management Mary-Hunter McDonnell, says, “We’ve seen a 75 percent increase since 2000 in the number of social movements targeting firms.” “Firms are increasingly more vulnerable to activism, McDonnell noted, thanks partly to the rise of socially conscious consumerism. Millennials, who are more inclined than their elders to link their purchases with social causes, look for products that meet their needs and express their political values as well. Also on the rise are socially conscious investment firms—up from 55 in 1995 to 260 in 2007.”

This new corporate social activism is fostered in part by three larger, interconnected factors in business, law, and society: 

(1) the convergence of government and private enterprise, 

(2) the maturation of corporate social responsibility efforts, and 

(3) the expansion of corporate political rights.

First, the public responsibilities of government and the private endeavors of business have blurred as government and business frequently act in interchangeable ways. Given this public-private convergence, activists seeking social change will pursue not only traditional public channels of government but also the new private channels of corporations to achieve their goals. Moreover, contemporary political gridlock and obstructionist partisanship have made new corporate channels of social change more appealing relative to the traditional public channels of government. Second, the maturation of corporate social responsibility efforts is another key contributing factor in the rise of contemporary corporate social activism. As businesses profess and position themselves to be socially conscious, social activists will more readily try to leverage the tools and resources of businesses towards achieving their aims. Third, the expansion of corporate political rights has played a significant role in fostering contemporary corporate social activism. Following the landmark cases of Citizens United v. FEC and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., business interests are playing an ever-growing role in politics, policymaking, and social activism. Consequently, social activists have made greater efforts to leverage the expanding political means and influence of corporations to serve their ends. Collectively, these three factors have created fertile conditions for corporations and social activists to engage one another on some of the large, pressing issues confronting contemporary society, leading to a new form of corporate social activism.”

“While one can be reasonably and cautiously optimistic about the long-term outlook of corporate social activism, one should also recognize the very real, potentially corrosive effects that such activism can have on our politics, our markets, and our society.”

It's a free country, or at least it is so far. So corporate social activism would seem to be part and parcel to individuals in these companies making decisions to pursue social causes and also assuming the risk that consumers may take their business elsewhere. This is true, for example, with Starbucks. If you don’t like their politics, there are countless other coffee cafes available to you.

The problem, though, arises when companies hold a monopoly or nearly so, like Big Tech. If Facebook, Google, Twitter and the subsidiaries they own like YouTube or Instagram or WhatsApp decide to put the kabosh on conservative or Christian or any other viewpoints, what alternative online communications platforms are available to them?

If professional sports athletes want to engage in social justice issues re their views on racism, which most recently has been BLM, more power to them. When teams and game telecasts make BLM messages central to their offerings, fans are left with putting up with the propaganda or turning it off. (I’m not talking about being in favor of racism or in any way justifying it – I’m talking about being opposed to BLM’s values and methods that are antithetical to Christian and I’d say American ideals.) There’s nowhere else to go. This is the sad politicization of professional sports

Again, I have no problem with businesspeople or professionals including athletes promoting their political views. I do have a problem with them making these views a condition for engaging or acquiring their goods and services, meaning forcing their views on consumers.

Corporate social activism today is taking on the methods and characteristics of woke and cancel culture, i.e., we are right, you are wrong, and you should be silenced. This is a smug authoritarianism, and it is a dangerous precedent and bodes ill for the future of a free society. 


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2021    

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