17 March, 2023
We’ve written a fair amount about the right (and wrong) way for businesses to respond to, and engage with, political issues. From social justice issues like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo to the business response to Ukraine, the front line between business and society is blurring and customers, employees and investors want to know about a business’s principles as well as its profits.
So we welcome Jericho Chambers’ new Business and Democracy Commission which will explore, and report, on these issues. It will work with business and civil society leaders to determine a set of recommendations focused on the role of business in a healthy democratic society.
While businesses have spoken up about political issues since the early days of capitalism – no one is surprised to hear a CEO discuss the minimum wage, or windfall taxes, or trade agreements – it’s on cultural and social issues where the fissures and dividing lines become most apparent. We believe businesses have a role to play here in joining the conversation, however contentious the issues may be. Businesses are, after all, a collection of people and in many ways reflect and represent society. They aren’t a neutral profit-making entity that is regulated and operates in a vacuum – political decisions affect the people who work for them, and the people who work for them and who run them will have views on social issues.
That said, engagement in these issues can come with a cost – look at Disney’s issues in Florida, or businesses that took a stand on Brexit. And in a world that seems ever more polarized, crafting an effective response matters more, and is more challenging than ever – where you put your lobbying dollars, how you use your advertising, and even how you choose to position pay increases for your employees.
It’s not an issue that is top of the responsible business agenda, but perhaps it should be. It’s easy to talk about stakeholder capitalism, but what does that actually mean in terms of the hard choices a business has to make about who it pleases, and who it will inevitably upset?
What’s also interesting is the way Jericho Chambers has chosen to support the Commission’s work. It is acting on a pro-bono basis and has launched a Crowdfunder campaign to make it a reality. It’s intentionally designed to democratise the process and make it more transparent. They are seeking funding but also other forms of in-kind support including interviewers and contributors. Crowdfunding is a great way of building like-minded communities around a cause or issue, so we are excited to see where this ends up, as well as the final conclusions of the Commission. If you’d like to support it, head over to their Crowdfunder page and join the discussion.
By Claire Jost