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How to Use Business for Good, Not Profits

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There are many forms of activism.  Most people will think large groups of people who are being disruptive and are opposing some form of injustice.  The two most famous protests in this generation’s lifetime are Gandhi’s Salt March in 1930 with 60,000 people and the March on Washington in 1963, where Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech to 200,000 people. Other types of activism associated with these movements are civil disobedience, demonstrations, boycotts, lobbying, and more.  To create change, I think a multi-faceted strategy is important.  Not everyone wants to participate in certain forms of activism, and likewise different people in the audience will have their individual preference of messages to respond positively to.  

One form of activism I would like to see more of is Corporate Activism.  The name doesn’t sound sexy, and most activists would probably much rather see anti-corporate activism!  I generally agree with both – the current state of business, especially publicly traded companies, is typically to make godly amounts of profit at all costs.  The obsession with profits clearly clashes with societal good, as there have been myriad reports on violating environmental issues, humane treatment of animals, and despicable labor conditions throughout the world.  

If corporations show benevolence, it is hard to say if their behavior is altruistic or if the business will ultimately benefit financially from the decision.  In either case, society should welcome whatever good companies are offering.  Some recent examples from major corporations include Apple noting their flaws in production and labor [https://images.apple.com/supplier-responsibility/pdf/Apple-Progress-Report-2017.pdf] and their aspiration to significantly improve them in extreme transparency, PayPal not expanding to North Carolina because of their pro-discrimination laws, and SalesForce helping employees relocate from Indiana because of similar laws.  While these are are pro-societal actions, notable companies like Chick-fil-A have tried to use their clout in anti-societal activism.  The public must not be so loyal to trusted brands or leaders, especially as more and more power is concentrated to a very few.  

 

So where does Corporate Activism fit into the jigsaw puzzle of activism?  

 

    • Far fewer people are necessary.  For PayPal’s decision to retract their offer to build a new office (and the 400 tax-paying incomes) in North Carolina could have literally come down to one person.  I am sure there are instances of people protesting a company to expand to an inhospitable location, but I cannot remember any that were effective.  
    • Far greater impact.  In case you have been hiding under a rock since the Great Depression, major corporations wield a highly concentrated level of power in the world [http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/03/15/these-25-companies-are-more-powerful-than-many-countries-multinational-corporate-wealth-power/].  A handful of corporations have GDPs larger than most countries [http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/worlds-largest-corporations-more-money-countries-world-combined-apple-walmart-shell-global-justice-a7245991.html].  When Apple is making more money than the government of China, Apple will do whatever it takes to improve their public image and how people are treated in the process of making our shiny pocket devices.  One company, making one decision (to improve working conditions) affects hundreds of thousands of people.  Often these advantages spill over to other corporations to either adopt the same strategy, or piggyback on the shared benefit (as in the case of Apple, much of their manufacturing is outsourced to a couple of companies that also manufacture for several other technology companies).  

 

  • Far more convenient.  Protesting, boycotting, or writing letters to your congress member isn’t for everyone.  For a decision maker, you just choose to do or not do something.  Sure, there may be more work because of, but it might just as well be the same amount of work that would have needed to happen anyways.  If PayPal is going to expand, it’s going to expand somewhere.  Just in a better place.  As righteous as it feels to protest, I would personally rather that situations not need protesting to begin with.  

 

  • Small Businesses can participate and succeed. Many people may think you need a huge corporation to make an impact, but that is not the case. Just because the term is coined as “corporate activism” does not mean small businesses are not considered. As the owner of your small business, you can effect your direct community, and even offer more than a corporation would, while also growing the ethics of your company.

 

Example of my own personal company activism: I was inspired by these large corporations to create a B2B (business-to-business) corporate activism campaign.  As the president of a cruelty-free/vegan marketing agency, I knew that our company could impact more than just our clients or to agencies we donate our time and money to.  As a passionate vegan, I would love to see the world become a much more loving and friendly place for all living beings on this planet.  I am challenging animal-based businesses to go vegan (#compassionbizchallenge), as did my company last year.  In exchange, my marketing company is offering up to 3 businesses one free year of services, totalling up to $100,000 in value.  The amount of positive press from this announcement has been overwhelming and hard to keep up with.  It is my hope that many, many more businesses than three will go vegan, and likewise thousands, if not millions, more animals will not need to live a life of suffering and misery.  For the world to go vegan, we will need to be activists on as many fronts as possible, including in the business world.  

 

Need to brainstorm how to protest with your company? Comment below or send me an e-mail!