In recent days a number of high-profile US corporations have publicly criticised lawmakers in the US state of Georgia for implementing voting laws that particularly penalise voters of colour. The laws have been dubbed “Jim Crow 2.0” and the corporate complaints have upset Republican politicians. “The corporations should stay out of politics,” the politicians say, and describe them as liberal-minded, or beholden to liberal pressure groups. So what are the rights and wrongs of companies getting involved in public issues?
Most business leaders I know don’t show any party-political preferences. But they do care about their people. Being in business is not, for the vast majority of them, wholly about making as much money as possible. It’s also about creating a little bit of the world that is a good place to be; they want positive work environments and positive people in part because they feel a responsibility towards the people who choose to work for them. It’s simply humanity.
Most obviously this means providing decent meeting places, coffee machines, and, often, confidential employee support services that allows staff to ask a third party for help for personal matters. Again, this is not just about good business; it’s just basic humanity.
So it’s natural to extend this to areas outside the workplace. If there are issues in the outside world that negatively affect their staff then companies led by responsible people will want to do something to address those. Across the world right now that means carefully considering work-from-home and travel concerns. It means environmental matters. And if a portion of staff who commonly face discrimination are going to feel that discrimination increase, then companies will naturally want to try to fix that.
When a company chooses to act, or not act, in a particular way—internally or externally—it sends a message to its staff and the world about what kind of world the company wants. Ignoring an incident, or walking on by when something bad happens, is itself a statement of what’s acceptable. Who we do business with, what countries we operate in, what services we buy… they all add to a picture of what we will and won’t accept.
Local, national and international politics are all just organised ways of helping society be the way we want it to be. And so it’s natural for commericial organisations, led by real people, and staffed by real people, to also participate in shaping things.