Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Politics for Business

A recent USA Today article outlined the effects of corporate executives taking a stance and the social media backlash. For example, Chili's restaurants reversed a decision to support the National Autism Association because some parents think the NAA should be ignoring concerns about immunizations (a theory which has been debunked by research, but as a meme still has legs). Other examples were cited. Anytime some person employed by a corporation states an opinion or a decision that is unpopular with a segment of the American populace then they hear about it. Often the backlash is sufficient for profit and non-profit organizations to reverse themselves.

Which begs the question: with regard to political contributions, who speaks for the corporations? And are the corporations who make donations to political action committees (PACs) and candidates directly willing to disclose their contributions? What would happen if customer segments found out they were supporting political action and candidates who have taken wrong-headed stances or are just blatantly fear-mongering?

With Supreme Court decisions in the past few years that have extended 'free speech' rights to corporations as if they were individuals, you sometimes wonder if those 'individuals' are schizophrenic, addled, severely confused, demented as they can't logically and sufficiently maintain a political or social opinion. Maybe all corporate boards need to be put in assisted-living facilities...okay, it's really called receivership or oversight or some other third-party governance. Who is permitted to speak for the corporation as if it was an individual--the CEO, the chairman, the board as a group, the employees....its customers who will clearly let them know if they've been upset or offended...or just certain segments of customers?

If corporations can be treated as individuals then they need some character development. Integrity is important and courage to stand up for your convictions is something we usually teach kids.

In a Google search for 'courage in the face of social backlash' only one clear example popped up: General Mills sustained its use of a Cheerios commercial depicting a mixed-race family. Several others were mentioned in another blog post though it's not clear if all of them faced any backlash (some did, maybe all).

How do you make corporate decisions to support a cause or take a political stance (even if it's quietly supporting a candidate or position group)? Who speaks for your organization?

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