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Corporate Citizenship In An Age Of Civil Unrest – LEVICK
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Corporate Citizenship in An Age of Civil Unrest

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In the Winston-Salem Journal, Richard Levick and Christina Elson, Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Capitalism at Wake Forest University, discuss the importance of honest and transparent communications from brands during the Black Lives Matter movement and beyond.

“I don’t need policies or laws to tell me that I should not hurt somebody or put my knee on their neck until they can no longer breathe.”

The anger in former Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau’s voice in The Economist podcast interview captured her anguish over the killing of George Floyd and her frustration with a system she sought to reform. Like other leaders in the law enforcement community, Harteau has struggled to change a culture granted immunity from oversight. The demonstrations over racial injustice roiling the country may — finally — dent that immunity.

The corporate world has also largely escaped accountability from confronting racial inequality. That may be changing, but how deeply the outcry affects brands and business operations is still a matter of conjecture. Companies that express support for Black Lives Matter may enhance their stature. Beware, however, that warning shots have already been taken at Adidas, Este Lauder, Nike, Under Armour, AT&T, Disney and CitiGroup. All launched compelling social media campaigns and were criticized for their lack of authenticity, bumpy historical records, neglecting to support worthy grassroots efforts, making significant political donations to politicians hostile to the BLM movement or for television advertising choices.

The second half of 2020 promises to be even more divisive and demanding. This is the start, not the apex. While people marching in the streets is an obvious indicator of anger and a demand for change, don’t be lulled into thinking if there are no demonstrations there is no outrage. This is not a “summer of discontent” but a moment that changes the future. The choice is to be a force for that change — or an adversary.

From a brand and culture point of view, the historic significance of these events is that companies can no longer afford to be neutral. For those conscientious enough to seriously ask the question, “How can we be good corporate citizens in an age of economic and civil unrest?” the answer is a difficult one: Internalize the moment’s disruptive forces and use them to completely re-evaluate corporate relations, public affairs, recruitment, marketing and culture and consider a rebuild from the ground up. Sporadic advertisements heralding diversity, a supportive tweet or a high-profile diverse hire and other one-offs aren’t going to work anymore. This moment requires fundamental change…Read more

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