Businesses can no longer afford to stay silent on social issues

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Source: JT/STAR MAX/IPx/AP

Following the US Supreme Court’s historic rejection of Roe v Wade last week, LinkedIn feeds across the globe were inundated with statements from global corporations, standing up for human rights issues and reproductive health. From Nike, Disney, Patagonia, Apple and Amazon, organisations took a proactive stance in support of women’s rights and bodily autonomy.

But it hasn’t always been this way.

There was a time when no business leader in their right mind would dare make a statement that risked customer alienation. Back in 1990, when Michael Jordan was asked why he failed to endorse a local black candidate running against an openly racist incumbent, he was infamously attributed as saying “Republicans buy shoes too”.

For years, this mentality was upheld by corporations across the globe. Fast forward 30 years and now the most progressive organisations are standing up on all major rights issues. Topics such as gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, immigration and the environment are no longer off limits.

Rise of ESG and stakeholder capitalism

Global organisations are becoming increasingly purpose-driven, taking a public stand on the issues that align with the company’s values. This is in line with the rise of ESG and stakeholder capitalism, where businesses are increasingly committed to upholding sound practices across environmental and social impacts that are in alignment with the needs and expectations of their stakeholders.

One of the key stakeholder groups for businesses is employees and workers around the world. We have seen many businesses over the last decade stand up in solidarity with their people on a whole range of social issues. Examples include  Nike and their support of Colin Kaepernick and the Black Lives Matter movement in unity with their black employees, and Salesforce’s support of the LGBTQIA+ community when the state of Indiana was close to passing a controversial law denying services to same-sex couples.

Women’s rights, which is the underlying issue with the overturning of Roe v Wade, is just one of the many human rights issues businesses are committed to defending as part of their ongoing ESG commitment.

The evolving  demographic

It is no secret that social change is being driven by the increasingly progressive and socially aware generations of millenials and gen Z. Millennials are quickly taking over the workforce, estimated to make up 75% of the workforce in Australia alone by 2025. They are increasingly vocal about their social concerns, and they’re not scared to hold their employers to account.

64% of millennials say that they won’t take a job if a potential employer doesn’t have strong corporate responsibility practices, whilst 65% of millennials consider a company’s social commitments before deciding where to work.

Progressive companies are listening to their employees and aligning on values that are important to them.

Silence is no longer an option

To put it simply, no business can afford to ignore their duty of care in a social context in this day and age. Businesses that choose to remain on the sidelines of current social issues and not support their stakeholders, particularly employees and customers, should not be surprised to find themselves the targets of activism.

Human rights are an essential part of the S in ESG. As organisations increasingly align themselves with frameworks like the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and work towards honest disclosures around their material impacts, both positive and negative, across both people and planet, they cannot cherry-pick what they wish to address and set goals against. They must have a position and a plan for the issues that impact their stakeholders, or risk accusations of social washing.

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lee tonitto
lee tonitto
30 days ago

While environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues increasingly dominate the executive agenda, not all three elements receive equal attention. The element that is most often overlooked, but has been put into a sharp focus by the pandemic and Millenials: the S

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