These companies are using their influence and resources to support marginalized communities
Today’s brands already know what they need to do to win market share – make high-quality products, provide convenient and seamless service, and tell an emotional brand story. But the modern customer expects more than slick packaging and chatbots. They want the brands they love to take a definitive stance on important social and cultural issues like racism, LGBTQ+ rights, and climate change.
A 2019 Sprout Social study found that 70% of customers want brands to take positions on both social and political issues. This is driven by the fact that corporations have reach and influence, and they can use their platforms to raise awareness and facilitate meaningful change.
This explains why so many brands have rushed to show support for Black Lives Matter in the aftermath of global protests against police brutality and racial inequities. But as we’ve seen, some statements and commitments have rung hollow. Take Amazon, for example. The company posted a message of solidarity on its Twitter account May 31 and then pledged $10 million to 11 organizations focused on criminal justice reform and education for black communities. But almost immediately, its actions fell flat when more than 30 civil rights organizations pointed out Amazon’s Ring partnerships with police departments, which allow officers to access Ring customers’ camera footage. That footage could inform facial recognition software algorithms, which disproportionately misidentify black people.
So, even though it’s important for companies to take a stand, they must do so honestly and in a way that aligns with their values. The following five brands are leading the way with their activism in support of racial equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and the fight against climate change.
Ben & Jerry’s
Ben & Jerry’s is known for its delicious ice cream and fun flavors like Americone Dream and Chip Happens. But the lighthearted brand has been among the most vocal in its support of the black community. Following the death of George Floyd in police custody, the company released a powerful statement calling for an end to white supremacy. But this wasn’t the first time Ben & Jerry’s had spoken out. Earlier this year, the brand used its 420 campaign to highlight racial injustice in the cannabis industry. And it first aligned with Black Lives Matter in 2016, which led to a multiyear campaign for criminal justice reform and included product releases like the flavor Justice Remix’d. The fight for racial equality has been at the core of Ben & Jerry’s values for years, and its activism has resonated with consumers – with $681.5 million in sales last year, it was the number one ice cream brand in the U.S., outpacing notable competitors like Häagen-Dazs, Blue Bell, and Breyers.
By no means is Nike a picture-perfect company when it comes to diversity. After speaking out in support of Black Lives Matter, the sportswear juggernaut was criticized for its majority-white senior leadership. This prompted Chief Executive John Donahoe to reach out to Nike employees and acknowledge the company needed to “get our own house in order”. In turn, Nike has made some serious pledges – it committed $40 million over four years to support black communities, and it released a powerful ad, which pleaded, “Don’t turn your back on racism”. But by no means is Nike new to speaking out. In 2018, it released a highly controversial ad featuring and showing support for Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49er who was blackballed from the NFL after kneeling in protest during the national anthem. Despite the ad’s critics and its unpopularity in conservative circles, Nike stayed the course and gained $6 billion in overall value in the months following the ad’s debut.
Two years prior to the Kaepernick ad, Executive Chairman Mark Parker called the team to action with an emotional internal memo about police violence. Shortly after, the company launched a series of internal meetings to discuss racism and various police killings that had occurred that year. In 2018, 10,000 managers were required to attend mandatory diversity and unconscious bias awareness training.
Nike still has work to do internally, but its leaders have shown a commitment to social justice that extends far beyond the current moment.
Unique challenges to the BLM movement
As with any major social movement, BLM is not without its detractors. Right-wing media figures and Republican politicians have vilified the protests and the movement.
However, what is less known is that the BLM movement has been systematically targeted by cybercriminals and hackers.
VPN Mentor put together an exhaustive list of the number of times that websites, activists, and organizations affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement were the victims of cyber crime and fraud.
Recent years have seen many companies jump on the LGBTQ+ rights bandwagon with exclusive Pride month merchandise, like Bud Light’s rainbow bottles and McDonald’s rainbow French fry containers. IKEA, too, has released a Pride-themed collection, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Ali Forney Center of New York City and the Los Angeles LGBT Center. But the company does a lot more for LGBTQ+ rights than sell limited-edition products.
In 2019, IKEA earned a 100% on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Annual Scorecard for LGBTQ Workplace Equality. The index scores companies on how their corporate practices foster an environment of inclusion. Among its many equitable policies, its U.S. medical plan covers a portion of gender confirmation counseling and surgery costs.
And in 2017, IKEA’s parent company, Ingka Group, co-created the UN Standards of Conduct for fighting LGBTQ discrimination in the workplace, which are a point of reference for companies all over the world.
IKEA’s commitment to equal rights isn’t a marketing ploy; the company is truly committed. And that commitment is paying off – prior to the pandemic, it brought in more than €40 billion in annual revenue for the first time in its history.
Microsoft has always been at the forefront of the tech sector, but in 2020, the tech giant has emerged as a leader in climate change activism. In January, the company pledged to become carbon negative by 2030, meaning it will remove more carbon from the environment than it produces. By 2050, it will remove all carbon it has created directly or through electrical consumption since it was founded in 1975.
These pledges may sound bold, and they are, but they’re backed by equally bold action. To achieve its goals, Microsoft will shift to 100% renewable energy by 2025, use electric vehicle fleets at all of its global campuses by 2030, and create new technology to help its suppliers reduce their emissions. The company also signed the UN 1.5-Degree Business Ambition Pledge, which asks businesses to set science-based targets aligned with limiting global temperature rise to 1.5° C above pre-industrial levels.
Additionally, Microsoft created a $1 billion Climate Innovation Fund to invest in new technologies, and it will publish an annual Environmental Sustainability Report to hold itself publicly accountable. The commitment has pleased consumers and investors alike – in the third fiscal quarter of 2020, all three of the company’s operating groups reported YOY growth. Though some of its success is surely pandemic-driven, it’s also connected to Microsoft’s values and long-term solutions.
Sustainability is more than a popular search term for Google – it’s at the core of its business. In 2018, the tech titan notched 12 straight years of carbon neutrality. The following year, it announced the largest-ever renewable energy procurement deal, in which it purchased a 1.6-gigawatt “package” with enough clean energy to power all of Uruguay.
At its campuses, Google has taken numerous steps to make its operations more sustainable. It offers Gbikes for employees to travel around the Mountain View campus, it grows food on 25 campuses, it uses employee shuttle services to reduce their car use, and it uses reclaimed building materials whenever it can. Its new Bay Area campus also uses geothermal technology to heat and cool the various offices.
And beyond its own properties, Google is working to build cities based on the circular economy model, in which waste is eliminated through the reuse of resources.
Google’s climate activism has coincided with its continued success. Parent company Alphabet brought in $41.2 billion in Q1 of 2020 – a 13% rise over the previous year.
Businesses were once afraid to speak out about social issues because they didn’t want to alienate consumers. But as these companies show, taking action in support of important causes both reaffirms their values and boosts their profits. Taking a stand doesn’t hurt business – it drives it. Leaders are steering their companies through a new era of activism, in which consumers demand more and they have no choice but to deliver.
If your brand wants to invest in corporate social responsibility, you will need to create a content marketing plan to make the most impact on your business.
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