Businesses promise social justice, but who really benefits?

by Tracy Abiaka 28 October 2021

Companies are increasingly taking a stand on social justice issues, for both moral and profit reasons, claiming that it is in their business interests to do so.

The murder of George Floyd in May 2020 by a white police officer was a major catalyst. Some companies posted black squares on their social media pages for Black Out Tuesday, a social media event that sought to amplify black voices. Some have posted statements of solidarity on their social media accounts. Some provided a platform for their black employees to share their experiences of being black in America. And others have revamped or embraced diversity, equity and inclusion services, provided racial bias training, or implemented goals to hire, retain and promote more people. ‘black employees.

Recently, with the implementation of the Texas anti-abortion law, some companies immediately got involved in the fight against the law. Uber and Lyft created advocacy funds to protect their drivers from lawsuits resulting from transporting women to abortion clinics, and GoDaddy shut down a website that aimed to collect advice from anonymous users on women who have benefited from abortion services and the people who helped them.

In September, more than 50 companies signed an open letter criticizing Texas’ abortion law, saying it not only violates reproductive rights, but is also bad for business, making it difficult to recruit. out-of-state talent and employee retention due to a lack of reproductive well-being.

There are, however, limits to how far companies will go – leaving them exposed to accusations of dishonesty.

Earlier this year, companies such as Coca Cola and Atlanta-headquartered Delta Airlines said they did not support Georgia’s new voting law that placed restrictions on voter access. However, they also did not sign a statement released and signed by hundreds of other companies such as Amazon, Starbucks and Google condemning the law. This could be due to the political divisions created by the law and the fact that state lawmakers have threatened to revoke tax breaks given to Georgia-based companies that violate the law.

This illustrates how, even when companies try to be socially progressive, no matter how genuine and desirable their goals are, the end result is what really matters. After all, state-owned enterprises must first respond to their shareholders.

Eboni Williams, a Portland, Oregon resident, says companies that get involved in social justice are not being sincere. “I think it’s the companies that are trying to bow to the current trends,” she said. “There wasn’t really any intentional work. Workers are always underpaid, overworked, and jobs – especially high-quality jobs – are not made more accessible to those who really need them. “

Malia Lazu, lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management and diversity, equity and inclusion (DCI) consultant, sees both sides of the problem for businesses. “I think there are some business leaders who are excited about this moment and want to take the lead,” Lazu said. “Then I think there are business leaders who want greenwash or blackwash… pinkwash the performance of it. “

However, Lazu said now is the time for businesses to learn about the current social landscape as they may not be familiar with the commitments of social justice work and what it means. Being committed against police brutality is one thing, but having shareholders’ responsibility is another. She said it’s a journey that may become more fulfilled as millennials begin to enter the C-suite.

For companies that are serious about getting involved in social justice and social responsibility, creating a corporate social responsibility (CSR) report helps not only provide framework and accountability, but also improve bottom lines. . According to a Harvard Business Review article, companies that follow a published corporate social responsibility framework by participating in social justice issues are more profitable than those that do not. The article, which cited a nine-year study by researchers at Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi of 240 companies from the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI), showed that companies with sustainable practices had higher gross profit margins. high and higher returns on assets than companies. that were not part of the DJSI.

Since there is no single entity to track and measure a company’s social responsibility goals, further analysis is needed. A good article that presents this is an August 23 Washington Post article, which explored whether American companies are fulfilling their commitment to racial justice by investing in social institutions, and where and how they have allocated their funding. He demonstrated that certain commitments were in the best interests of black Americans, such as those of Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase which provide loans and investments, in the form of mortgages, which they in turn can profit from. As Phillip Atiba Goff has quoted, “Businesses are not designed to exercise their power for the greater good… they are constrained by the things they feel they need to do to run their brand.

Therefore, one thing journalists can do is familiarize themselves with corporate social responsibility reports, know how to interpret them, and more importantly follow up on compliance with companies. It is important to check whether companies keep their promises.

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