The business community is no stranger to corporate social justice and reform. For years, some major American companies have worked to make social issues a priority of their impact. The same has been true in other regions of the world. In fact, there is evidence that promoting community interests is good for business as well.
But in the last decade, racial injustices against the backdrop of the pandemic and climate-related disasters, have changed the playing field. Companies are under intense moral pressure to call out injustice, stand up for their beliefs and use their brand power to effect change. The old model of social responsibility is no longer enough.
Thankfully, the business community is stepping up to the challenge. They are more aware of social justice reform than ever before. This is because consumers are pushing companies to accept social well-being as an urgent need, not just something good for their brands or bottom lines.
They are being asked to be ethical, transparent, and accountable to shareholders, employees, and the community at large. By participating rather than standing by, companies can be important agents of change.
Corporate social justice matters
Social justice is comprised of goals including:
Over the past five years, these values have been visibly put to the test. Voting rights, racial injustice, police brutality, trade issues, immigration, child poverty, homelessness and pandemic-related inequality are high-profile issues demanding answers.
Advocacy, education, activism, and civic engagement can help lay the groundwork for meaningful reform. But more needs to be done.
A consumer revolution
Consumers are driving a marketplace revolution. They prefer that product decisions align with their values and support just causes. In fact, 78% of consumers want companies to address social justice issues. And a majority of millennials are using their buying power to move the needle. The result is that major brands are under pressure to fall in line.
In turn, CEOs are committing to invest in employees and local communities. Their efforts are echoed in a bold vision statement by the Business Roundtable. The aim is to focus corporate responsibility on societal issues that matter.
The private sector has an important role to play in effective civic engagement. In fact, when businesses share this vision, they tend to make fair decisions, help remove barriers and broaden opportunities for all. As they say, when the tide comes in, all boats rise. Everyone wins.
The stakes are high
Corporate social justice has become a touchstone of company commitment. Companies that stood on the sidelines after the racial injustice protests in the summer of 2020 faced a public opinion backlash and the threat of boycotts. The same was true after the unfair voting rights legislation in North Carolina and Georgia. Companies that dragged their feet were criticized, while organizations that reacted decisively by hitting the state’s bottom line were praised for their efforts.
More broadly, companies like Ben & Jerry’s, with its record of social responsibility, took a public stand on a host of issues, including: systemic racism, white supremacy, climate change, refugees and transgender rights. Similarly, in 2018, Levi Strauss & Co. advocated (and continues to advocate) for protections for undocumented immigrants and refugees, as well as for broader voting rights. That year, Levi’s profits were up 14% over the prior year, generating $5.6 billion in revenue.
Making a difference
It is clear that business innovation can not only benefit a company’s bottom line but also open up possibilities for the greater good. To support social justice, company brands and messaging must be sensitive to burning concerns. We urgently need corporate initiatives that address:
These social justice challenges call for fresh approaches and solutions. There is still so much work to be done, but by working together, business leaders, governments, and the communities they serve can chart a new course for our economy.
Learn more about how you can help drive businesses to create social and environmental change by participating in Net Impact’s Regenerative Economy series.