Here is something to ponder as we get to the end of the week. No real answers today, but an important question for us.
We’ve all seen instances of companies facing consumer backlash from their business decisions. For example, many people boycotted adidas products over the company’s use of kangaroo hide in a line of soccer shoes. A number of companies (Wal-Mart, Nike and others) have faced boycotts over their alleged use of sweatshops to manufacture their goods overseas. These consumer actions are not particularly new.
What is new, however, is consumers taking action over not a “what” but a “who”. The personal (non-business related) activities of executives are now seen as fair game in assessing one’s willingness to do business with a company or, in extreme cases, organize people to avoid the company. A few recent examples:
- LGBT rights activists called for protests and boycotts of the Chick-fil-a when it became known that the CEO had made a series of remarks opposing gay marriage. In addition, the company’s charitable arm had made millions in donations to political organizations which oppose gay rights. Counter-protestors rallied in support by eating at the restaurants. National political figures both for and against the actions spoke out and some business partners severed ties with the chain.
- After learning that Condoleezza Rice was joining Dropbox’s Board of Directors, many people loudly and publicly (by web standards) deleted their Dropbox accounts. Some also deleted the Mailbox app from their phones.
- The incoming CEO of Mozilla (which oversees the Firefox browser) stepped down from his new position after news of his support of a 2008 anti-gay marriage campaign came to light.
There are many more I’m sure you can cite but the business question is this: how far into a person’s political and religious beliefs do companies have to go in hiring? How do we reconcile wanting to do careful checks to prevent external response with the laws that are in place precisely to prevent discrimination in hiring over someone’s beliefs? Is it “fair” (whatever that means) for companies to be held accountable for the non-business activities of an endorser or a hire?