By Andrew L. Urban
When companies come out of the social closet on issues such as same sex marriage or climb on board the diversity band wagon, or withdraw advertising from media in response to, say, a celebrated news anchor being accused of sexual harassment, they invite a pesky guest to their boardrooms. That guest is the morality accountant, also known as Mr Oops.
The consequences of taking a stand on issues outside the corporate ledger are yet to be fully played out, but Mr Oops knows they are coming. Mr Oops also wants to know why these corporations had not spent as much resources and enthusiasm on core business issues – like conspicuously arguing for the Government’s proposed tax cuts.
If corporations become self appointed commentators and arbiters of our moral and ethical choices, they will need to consider some tough questions. Mr Oops will want to know if the company staking moral capital on issues outside their business charter intends to follow through with its investment. Does it have the required moral capital? Will the company withhold its products from customers whose morality is wanting? Say a whole country whose human rights violations are known and reviled?
What about groups whose official policy is abhorrent to us, such as terrorist organisations or totalitarian states? Will the same companies who promote one set of ‘correct’ values now ensure that none of their products reach these people? Who will determine the ‘right’ set of values?
When will CEOs take a public stand against politicians who defraud the taxpayer? Think a politician whose, say, $100,000 in living allowance claims are invalid. Will these socially conscious companies issue mini hand cuffs designed as cuff links to their staff and customers as a symbol of righteous citizens demanding justice for thieving pollies?
When will a hundred CEOs issue a statement to support the right of various communities to live by their own laws, in pursuit of their human rights? Think the ACTU, think Islamic communities, think bikie gangs. You know, #Ibreaklawwithyou …
Will there be a boycott by parts manufacturers of Toyota in response to Toyota selling their trucks to ISIS and other organisations who are seen on daily news footage with Toyota branded tailgates brandished on camera? The general public hasn’t – yet – boycotted Toyota for its tacit acceptance that its trucks (predominantly its trucks) are used by ISIS et al.
How credible is corporate morality when it supports same sex marriage but stays silent on the brutal and deadly homophobia within Islam? Silence is complicity, remember.
How do we feel about a company, a bank, say, which has been shown to have acted unethically in cheating its customers, pushing its ‘values’ to us?
If large corporations gradually take on the role of social engineers, what of their employees: holier than thou should not be the environment of employment. Thou’sß is just of a different view, not unholy. That’s the problem with righteousness, it is blind but knows it not. As Charles Darwin put it, “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”
Can we expect the next wave of corporate activism to be aimed at bullying the community about refugee policies? Abortion? Gender reassignment?
Of course, the argument put forward in defence of corporate activism is that it is in the interests of human rights, as the company directors define it. That is sheer arrogance, as much as it is selective. It is a human right not to be bullied, isn’t it. Corporate activism is bullying of the kind that delivers a group think culture that has defiled and corrupted the cultures of some media – eg ABC, Fairfax – as well as science – eg climate. No single employee in these enterprises feels safe to differ from the ruling orthodoxy; it would be career suicide. How human rightful is that?
Although I am an atheist, I recognise and respect the right of religions to publicly declare their moral points of view on questions of ethics and so on (with the one proviso that these views do not entice, encourage, condone or require violence). That is their mission, so to speak. But we don’t expect religious spokesmen to take to the pulpit with a message to corporations about their company policy on accounting methods nor to question distribution or sales plans. That is not their mission. They have no credibility nor role in these areas, just as corporations have none in ethical matters on which society (including of course their employees and shareholders) is divided.
The moral selectivity of corporations offends against common sense, but worse, it establishes a danger to democracy. This is not a totalitarian state whose oppression must be resisted by all. It is not corporate might, expressed through the megaphones of publicity, that should urge its values on society. Imagine the position of suppliers to the major corporations who publicly advocate for same sex marriage, for example. The commercial imperative is to toe the line. This is exactly how totalitarianism functions: it is predicated on a regime of fear, whether fear of torture or loss of life or public humiliation … or commercial survival.
The precedent has been set: banks, airlines, accounting, IT firms and other large corporations have shredded their neutrality in matters of conscience and ethics, exercising what international politics calls ‘soft power’ to assert a moralistic stand. Lucky that Australians are far more savvy and alert to being manipulated than these oafs imagined.
Probably. Reader Juanita wrote in the comments thread alongside Miranda Devine’s column about the special incomplete ring promoted by corporate supporters of SSM, in the Daily Telegraph on April 5, 2017: “Hmmm remind anyone of the yellow star people were forced to wear, so you could tell them apart? Exactly the same, not one ounce of difference, its called intimidation, and would actually be illegal under our terms of workplace safety and anti discrimination act I believe. And everyone who is asked to wear one, should take it to court.” Or just ignore it.