I have noticed an interesting trend toward society expecting more from business as corporate citizens in this past year more than any other. Corporate citizenship refers to the expectation that organizations have a responsibility to go beyond the needs of their shareholders (and minimum legal and ethical considerations) to also consider the needs of the community and surrounding environments.
In the past week the trending hashtag, #DeleteUber, resulted in over 200,000 users deleting their accounts in response to a misunderstanding over Uber’s intent when turning off surge pricing surrounding a protest taking place at Kennedy International Airport. In addition to the public backlash, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick faced heavy pressure from his employees to withdraw from the president’s economic advisory team saying that they were receiving negative “stigma” from friends and family for working for Uber. Kalanick ultimately resigned from the advisory team.
North Carolina last year was a source of attention across the United States when its divisive HB2 “bathroom bill” resulted in entertainers, sports associations, and businesses boycotting the state. Businesses took the position that discriminatory bills hurt their ability to attract and retain the best talent and consumers and was therefore bad for business. As the majority of Fortune 500 companies have laws protecting employees from being discriminated against based on their gender identity, many of these organizations were following their internal policies. Multiple companies pulled out of planned expansions into the state, costing over 1000 jobs. The total projected economic loss to the state was tallied last September by Wired magazine to be at least $395 million dollars.
Technology companies in particular have been active in corporate citizenship efforts recently. On February 5, 2017 a group of ninety-seven companies (including Apple) signed and filed a legal brief in response to the president’s executive order on immigration that “emphasizes the importance of immigrants in the economy and society.”
In the more transparent age of the internet and social media consumers and employees are taking it upon themselves to become educated about the corporate citizenship of the companies they work for and purchase from. Social media has become a powerful tool of those wishing to share their findings to an increasingly focused network.
Those companies that choose to be proactive and consistent in their messaging and actions are more likely to develop trust and a competitive edge for both customers and staff. Those who are reactive or choose to ignore corporate citizenship may find themselves in the difficult position of trying to explain themselves to a skeptical and distrusting audience.