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An Embattled Nation Finds Hope in Corporate Activism and Economic Recovery

5 MINUTE READ | April 13, 2021

An Embattled Nation Finds Hope in Corporate Activism and Economic Recovery

activism and recovery

America is reeling after recent police actions led to more unrest and louder calls for accountability. In Minneapolis, just miles from where Derek Chauvin’s trial is currently underway, authorities say a police officer fatally “accidentally discharged” her weapon when attempting to take Daunte Wright, 20, into custody after a traffic stop. A 7:00 p.m. curfew was enacted in the Twin Cities region last night as protestors faced off with police with demonstrations dissipating around midnight. In Virginia, body camera and cell phone footage captured two police officers threatening to harm U.S. Army Lieutenant Caron Nazario, a Black Latino army officer, during a traffic stop. Nazario has since filed a federal civil lawsuit, and one of the two officers has been fired following an internal investigation. 

Congress returns to Washington D.C. this week, reacting to a potential fourth wave driven by new coronavirus variants, surging gun violence, new voting laws passed in Georgia (setting a precedent for other states), and President Biden’s infrastructure and jobs plan. Several prominent business stories have captured our attention in recent days, offering a line of sight and valuable perspective into how brands — and even entire industries — are responding to current events, reassessing priorities, and positioning themselves for a strong Q2. 

Here’s what we’re seeing play out. 

More than 170 corporate leaders have publicly condemned newly passed Georgia voting legislation, making voting rights a foremost issue for some of the world’s largest corporations. More than 100 CEOs and senior leaders representing brands ranging from American Airlines to Levi Strauss joined a historic summit on Saturday to discuss what further action could be taken to express their disapproval of the new legislation, in response to calls from Georgia voters for big businesses to take a stand for their communities. Investments in stadiums, events, and other lucrative projects, including Will Smith’s film production for a new movie, have left Georgia in protest. 

The summit, held over Zoom, was organized by Professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld of Yale School of Management. Sonnenfeld told reporters that the executives fortified one another’s positions with promises of their own. Since the meeting, more than 100 corporations from AMC to PayPal have announced they will be re-evaluating their political donations to candidates supporting bills that restrict voting rights, with many promising to reconsider investments in states that act upon these legislative proposals. 

Driving this trend: More and more, employees, board members, and customers are looking to corporations to take on a bigger role in social and political issues, resulting in corporate activism that has led to a radical transformation in how businesses are perceived and valued for the influence they yield. The circumstances of 2020 broke the barrier between work life and personal life, leaving CEOs and other executives with the task of steering their companies and people through heightened uncertainty, rising anxiety, and a swell of misinformation, ultimately stepping in to fill a void left open by other societal institutions. 

The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer supports these trends, revealing that business is the institution most trusted (61 percent) to lead on a range of issues. “Sixty-eight percent of respondents expect CEOs to fill the void left by government in fixing societal problems, while 65 percent feel CEOs should be as accountable to the public as they are to their shareholders.” 

As they act on a broader set of concerns beyond the bottom line and company performance, we’ll continue to see more outspoken chief executives and corporate announcements addressing discrimination, sustainability, systemic racism, and more, to support the advancement of diversity, equity, inclusion, and informational integrity. 

In an interview broadcast on “60 Minutes” this weekend, Fed Chair Jerome Powell shared that he believes the American economy is about to start growing quickly, stating, “What [we see] now is really an economy that seems to be much at an inflection point, and that’s because of widespread vaccination and strong fiscal support, strong monetary policy support.” 

In addition to reports that housing prices are on the rise, Uber posted record demand in March, and the live events industry is poised for a comeback, indicating that consumers are ready for a return to normal. Across the Atlantic, celebrations erupted, and long lines were seen as pubs, gardens, and nonessential shops reopened throughout England.

Looking ahead, all eyes are on Wall Street this week as Coinbase goes public on Wednesday in what should be a record-breaking opening and as big banks post Q1 earnings, reflecting where we are on the path to America’s economic recovery. 

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Posted by Abby Long

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