The Indicator from Planet Money - Companies Get Political

Politics used to be off limits for most American companies — at least publicly. Most would usually take a neutral position when a big political story hit the news. But that has changed.

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Content Keywords: companies NPR writers Corporate America
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everyone Cardiff and Stacy here. This is the indicator from Planet Money. So Cardiff lot of news this last week. It's been a week that has lasted a decade like the world's longest week. There was like the riot. We're we're writers from the capital and took over the building for a while. The FBI is hunting down the people who participated not right right. Now ya ton, of course today. The House of Representatives is moving to impeach President Trump for the second time and thousands of troops have been called to Washington DC to help secure. The inauguration of Joe Biden is President next week. So all of this stuff is going on all these huge events are going on and there's also been this strange outcry from Corporate America during all this. Yeah, involving a lot of companies by the way, so don't companies like Twitter and Facebook and Amazon.

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Was provided the platforms on which a lot of the Riders were communicating with each other?

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Flood of companies that made announcements that it has nothing to do with the the riots last week like Marriott Hotels Blue Cross Blue Shield MasterCard Dow Chemical American Express. They all came out and said that they were going to Halt donations to lawmakers who has supported efforts to disrupt the confirmation of Joe Biden presidential victory and a bunch of companies like Citigroup Goldman Sachs Ford and said they were just not going to give any money to politicians at all for a while, which is interesting because it's like they're saying hey on principle we are going to keep our own money. We're taking going to stand right here right now. It's a good thing. We have Corporate America providing this moral compass for us. It is kind of a shift though. It really is any Corporate America has always been political right at the politics have almost always been played out behind closed doors under the table. I mean these kinds of public

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Dan's about politics and corporate giving at least on this kind of scale is new and so to understand everything that's been going on. We called up Lee Newman Lee's the CEO of advertising agency. Mullenlowe us in our conversation with Lee is coming up right after the bridge.

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Lee Newman CEO of advertising agency. Mullenlowe, you ask thank you for joining us. So the first thing I wanted to ask you about was this change that we've been seeing and how companies are handling the political events that are happening right now. I mean in the past, I guess in the Before Time say couple years ago from what I understood. It was always sort of conventional wisdom for companies kind of stay out of politics. I think that's exactly right while they're there may have been things happening behind the scenes and certainly political donations and lobbyists to the public facing. I generally speaking Brands were we're trying to remain neutral and stay out of politics can see a lot of company is coming to you about how to approach politics. I'm wondering was it around the the murder of George Floyd?

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Yeah, that was a watershed moment. Because I think that there was a growing realisation in Corporate America that you couldn't simply opt out of the conversation that silence was complicity and you had to say something and I think the advice that we were giving over and over again as whatever you say should be backed up by actions in terms of what you're doing within the walls of your company. But also how you're given and I think that that's carrying over to this past week across a broad spectrum of companies. What was it about that moment. I guess that cause this shift because all these companies. I mean that there were the ones like Nike which you know made a lot of sense given like Colin Kaepernick and things like that. But also there were Brands like I remember gushers fruit snacks, you know, they came out with a statement and everybody kind of chuckled about it, but you know, they came out saying like we support

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Matter like this company wouldn't be what it is without black consumers and and workers. I mean, it seems like all these companies were all kind of stepping out in a way that at least to me. It seems like a new like a new thing. Absolutely and I'd like to start with a positive and believe that there was a genuine desire to create change. And so I still all these years in the business world and I still start with Optimus in there, but it's a little cynical and I don't think that's the only reason I M E. I think that it's all so, you know a direct reflection of the political views of of the leadership and and then the third thing which is really important and should not be underestimated is the power of employees to put pressure on a company to use their influence. There's a toy

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One more going on and when the real heart of a company account of the company raises its voice in unison management often times reacts to that. And then the last reason I talk about is people's ability to really search and know how companies are behaving and how they're donating and businesses are aware of that. And I think that the last Point business is knowing that the people are paying attention is driving a lot of the behavior. We seen most recently in the past week.

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So many companies kind of speaking up in the last I guess week or so. Like I did it surprise you to see so many companies kind of coming out with statements company is set I would view as as as more conservative actually using their influence to to make a stand think the sky.

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Did that well in a lot of cases, I feel like companies were doing it out of a business need, you know, Wall Street loves stability and what we saw this past week was the opposite of stability and I'm so I think that in a lot of ways these companies felt like they were protecting our democracy and then I also believe in a little bit of a of a government leadership vacuum that there's a greater responsibility and Corporate America to just stand up and take a stand when they see something is not right.

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I've seen this from getting thrown around in recent days called woke washing. Do you think that's part of what's going on is that companies are like, oh I want to be on the right side of the saying I definitely think there's a there's quite a bit about I think there if there is a desire to be on the right side of history, but in more cases than not I just feel like we seen something totally unprecedented and companies feel like a sense of responsibility to take a stand.

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You really think that I mean, you know, I covered a lot of companies for years and years and I don't I I generally don't think the big companies are evil. But I also generally think that what they're looking out for our their own profits, you know them interested their shareholders things like that. That's not that does not always jive with human rights like workers rights things like that happen often companies corporate interests are at odds with political movements social movements things like that. But you know, I hate that, you know, when those things are are clearly at odds companies will tend to to take the path of most profit. But in this case companies generally wanted to regain stability and they felt license to speak out against those forces that were causing instability and so in this case is still

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And it's pretty much in in concert with long-term profit goals. We thank you so much for talking with us. Thank you.

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This episode of the indicator was produced by Dave Blanchard. It was fact-checked by Sean. Saldania. The indicator is edited by Patty Hirsch and is a production of NPR.

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