Helping Companies Take a Stand

You may have noticed that most companies have been slow to express outrage or provide counter messaging to the recent rise of right-wing extremist hate groups and the current US Administration’s non-denunciation of these groups. For the most part, the only companies that have taken any meaningful action are large tech companies, well insulated by their market positions.

There are, however, a few companies from the consumable goods and food industries that have made strong statements contradicting the recent spate of hate-filled rhetoric, including Ben and Jerry’s (owned by Unilever), The Campbell Soup Company, 3M, and Annie’s (General Mills). These companies are exceptions to the quiet majority for a reason: they now face the probable consequences of boycotts and reprisals from right wing extremist organizations.

It has become ever more risky for businesses and companies to publicly stand for principles related to almost anything other than quality or cost.

When companies do take a stand, their values are generally interpreted as politically partisan and labeled either conservative or liberal. Only companies that know they can withstand the backlash and boycotts from consumer activists can afford to risk taking stands on trying to make the world a better place.

Some companies face little risk of retribution because they are so entrenched as industry leaders that political policy decisions will make little difference to their bottom lines — think Amazon, Facebook, and Google. They can say pretty much whatever they want because the majority of consumers will continue to use their products regardless of what they say. Other companies are fairly safe to take controversial stands because their brands were built around and are now synonymous with certain values, like Patagonia, Ben and Jerry’s, or Hobby Lobby. As long as these companies stay consistent in their messaging, their supporters will continue to purchase from them.


However...

a company not falling into one of these two categories risks decreasing profit margins, putting workers’ jobs in jeopardy, and potentially even its very existence when it publicly takes a stand on controversial topics. Each time consumer activists cheer on a company for taking a position, it is likely that a contrarian group will call for the boycott of the company. If revenue lost from boycotting is greater than revenue earned from consumer activists who become new customers then the company will be financially injured by its controversial position. Moreover, companies that speak out against the current US Administration could also face its wrath and retribution.

While boycotting can have a powerful effect on persuading companies to alter their corporate policies, equally, if not more important, is for consumer activists to support companies that take a stand on politically charged issues which they agree with.

If companies think they are unlikely to be able to offset the financial losses from the boycotts with revenue from supporters, they are unlikely, and possibly unable, to take controversial positions. It is, therefore, important for consumer activists to support these companies both through purchasing choices and public praising so that they know they can risk being about more than just financial bottom lines: They are empowered to use their considerable reach and influence to change the world for the better.

The next time you go shopping and you’re hungry or purchasing for your household, consider purchasing brands that were brave enough to take a stand for the same things you believe in:

Photo by Marcelo Quinan on Unsplash