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The Unexpected Challenges of Embracing Social Issues: Companies Redefine Corporate Responsibilit
The modern era of business and consumerism has brought with it an increased awareness of social responsibility, leading some companies to embrace social issues in order to gain public favor. But not all these initiatives have been successful, and in fact, some companies have had to reverse their position in the face of public backlash. Here, we look at three examples of businesses that have had to step back from their social stance, even after throwing their weight behind the issue in question.
Nike and Colin Kaepernick
In 2018, Nike made waves with its ad campaign featuring former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The decision to use Kaepernick—a symbol of the protest against police brutality towards African Americans—in their promotion was a bold move that raised eyebrows but also gained them plenty of favor from liberal-minded customers.
Fast-forward two years, and Nike is now facing a backlash after it emerged that the company had recently pulled the “Betsy Ross” flag-themed Air Max 1 sneaker from its stores, after Kaepernick expressed reservations about the flag’s association with slavery. The episode has highlighted the delicate nature of tackling social issues and the dangers of alienating customers with both sides of the argument.
Facebook and Lobbying
In 2018, Facebook found itself in the midst of a public relations nightmare when Cambridge Analytica, a data firm that had been hired by the company, was revealed to have misused users’ data for political gain. Facebook had already been under scrutiny for its role in the 2016 presidential election as well as the prevalence of fake news, leading CEO Mark Zuckerberg to pledge to take the company’s role in politics more seriously. As part of this, Facebook announced it would be joining a lobbying group, called the Partnership for America’s Future, in order to “help shape the policy environment,” although the move has been met with criticism from prominent American politicians.
Starbucks and Race Relations
Starbucks found itself in a tricky situation in 2018, after two black men were arrested for allegedly trespassing in a Philadelphia store. The incident quickly attracted nationwide attention, and prompted Starbucks CEO, Kevin Johnson, to apologize and announce that the company would be closing several stores to provide employees with “racial-bias education.”
At the time, Johnson’s move was praised by many, but more than a year on, some are questioning whether this was a mere PR exercise. Critics claim that Starbucks hasn’t lived up to its promises, and the subsequent decision to remove hooks from its stores due to their alleged associations with gang culture has been met with derision. The episode has highlighted the complexities of tackling social issues, especially when they are outside of the company’s core competencies.
These examples illustrate the dangers of companies embracing social issues. Although there is a growing consumer sentiment in favor of businesses taking a stance on social issues, the complexities of tackling global issues means that companies need to tread carefully. Even if a company succeeds in gaining public favor for its stance, it could quickly find itself in hot water if it fails to back up its words with action.In recent years, many companies around the world have embraced social issues, from racial injustice to the climate crisis, in an effort to remain socially responsible. Companies have done this by donating to various causes, sponsoring initiatives, and releasing public statements.
While these actions and intentions are laudable, some companies are now finding that they may have gone too far. In some cases, companies are catching backlash from the very people they thought they were helping. This is because, in an effort to show their commitment, some companies have gone beyond making statements and donated to causes and initiatives that come with a political angle.
Take, for example, the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF). This well-known non-profit organization provides a variety of services to children in poverty and works to improve the conditions of low-income households. Many companies have pledged to support the CDF’s work, citing the mission as a worthwhile cause.
However, the organization’s work also includes fighting for legislation on certain social issues, such as immigration and gun control, that have become encased in a political agenda. When companies supported the CDF, those who disagreed with the political agenda began to criticize the company for “taking sides” in a political debate.
The same pattern has been seen in other industries as well. In 2020, many companies, including tech giant Google, spoke out against racial discrimination. While their intentions were good, some organizations and individuals disagreed with the way in which Google attempted to address the issue. This caused the company to backtrack and apologize for the statement that was initially made.
The takeaway from these examples is that companies should be careful when embracing social issues. While it is important and noble to strive for social justice, companies should not get caught up in political debates that may alienate some of their customers. Companies should be clear on where they stand with their mission and should be transparent about their goals and intentions when it comes to social issues. By doing this, companies can avoid any backlash and remain socially responsible.