Our faith in politicians when it comes to morals, ethics, and overall trust has deteriorated in recent years. Perhaps this sentiment of political distrust isn’t new, however in this current age of complete political ambiguity and need for fundamental leadership, we have turned to people with almost as much power as the politicians; the CEOs. The million and billionaire chief executives seem to be more inclined to take powerful social stances on many issues relating to race and inequalities than the Republican party. Companies such as Levis, Delta and United Airlines put more activism towards gun violence in the US than the President himself.
Ironically enough, corporations have stepped up to the plate. Corporate neutralism in the current Trump vs. the world era seems to be heavily outdated. This could easily be defined as a trending sense of neoliberalism, or a sign that capitalism has always been more transparent than politics. The real question is – how effective is CEO Activism… and should CEOs be able to attain such influential political power?
Political identity itself seems to have little to do with politics anymore. It is filled with hatred over prejudices and siding with a team the same way we do with sports. Social media acts as the perfect echo chamber for these heavily defined ideologies. The rivalry between sides has become too extreme to negotiate a sense of reality. We don’t turn to our own president for ambitious speeches or new wave leadership the same way we did with past presidents.
Most recently, Nike has faced both backlash and support for their decision to make former NFL player Colin Kaepernick the face of their ‘Just do it’ 30th anniversary campaign, with the slogan, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
Kaepernick initiated a silent protest that began in 2016, when he started kneeling during the national anthem to call attention to police brutality and racial injustice. This grew into a social movement that ignited the nation’s cultural divide, and lead both the NFL and the White House to be faced with difficult questions about freedom of speech and patriotism.
Another example of this surge in CEO Activism is Howard Schultz from Starbucks who has taken very public stances on unrelated issues to their businesses. Schultz is no fan of Donald Trump, and has taken stances on racial inequalities by hiring up to 10,000 refugees in the wake of the refugee ban.
The New York Times wrote a story titled the ‘Power of CEO Activism’ in April 2016, and worked with market-research company Civic Science to collect thousands of survey responses about supporting consumerism based on the beliefs of the companies’ executives. The results supported the idea that chief executives of these major companies such as Starbucks and Apple can shape public opinion about controversial social issues. Consumers seem to be more interested in purchasing from a company when they agree with the political stance of the executive, whether that is the motive of the CEO activist or not. For corporations who intend to build extremely personalised relationships with consumers, it is hard not to form a sense of political identity when the essence of it has become too intense to shy away from.
There is a very long history of the corporate world influencing the public through capital persuasion, however CEO Activism has never been newer and misunderstood. When the times are perceived by society as uncertain and not so good, it provides perfect opportunity for corporations to step up and contribute something positive to society. This fuels economic expansion for these company giants, and reputable returns for their investors. Corporate activism is essentially the perfect response to the Trump era, and in many ways, has contributed to the ongoing conflict between political identity, as corporate logos now represent something much bigger and more political than ever before.