by Michael Marx
The rise of Donald Trump has created a serious crisis that we must not let go to waste. He has activated citizens that have never attended a protest, written their Congressperson, let alone yelled at him or her during a town hall meeting. He has unified diverse constituencies in the progressive movement that have never truly been able to find broad common ground and focus. He has created a situation where appearing to support or benefit from a radical Trump agenda (like his Muslin Immigrant Ban) cost a company like Uber, 200,000 customers in 48 hours. Even being on an Advisory Council to him spawned calls for boycotts against Tesla, PepsiCo, Amazon, Uber and Disney. In fact, just being an American corporation in a Trump-offended country like Mexico makes you a boycott target. Corporations are natural targets when you can’t move your government. People are starting to vote with their wallets.
Trump’s ascendance has created an opportunity to leverage the collective power of a diverse civil society (faith, enviros, labor, equity, equal rights, etc.) to sort American corporations into two groups-those that support true American values and those that support Trump fascist values (i.e., authoritarianism, where corporate interests trump public interests). Right now, the single greatest threat to American companies is to be labeled Trump friendly and to have civil society unified and focused on punishing them. Civil society needs to come together and say “we don’t invest in, do business with, procure products or seek employment from, or even allow recruiters on our campuses from companies that are Trump friendly. To be fair we need to define what constitutes a true American values company versus a Trump fascist company (respective labels TBD) so we can reward the former and punish the latter. I’ll get to that in a moment.
This is an unprecedented opportunity because the roots of most of the problems we face in this country are corporate misbehavior, not government. While some American corporations are committed to being high road companies, they are a distinct minority. Few pay and promote women equally; have employee populations that reflect the diversity of the talent pool; are committed to reducing their carbon pollution enough to stave off catastrophic climate change; are demanding their foreign manufacturers be socially and environmentally responsible. Corporations are fundamentally “externalizing machines” that shift the cost of doing business (e.g., pollution, healthcare) to others, at least until they are forced to internalize them by government or marketplace campaigns.
Trump has given civil society a once in a lifetime opportunity to obtain commitments from corporations that would have taken us years to achieve, if at all. In the past activists would hound a company for a year or more hoping to raise the threat to its brand enough that it would change its practices. Being seen as ‘Trump friendly’ is now a huge threat to companies’ brand, particularly among the majority of women, people of color, and millennials, which all constitute the consumers of the future.
How do we seize the opportunity?
First, we need to define our demands. Two that have the greatest potential to mobilize passionate constituencies and generate early corporate commitments are climate and equity-both issues threatened by Trump’s political agenda.
- The climate demand would require companies to publicly declare that climate change is real, that we must honor the Paris agreement, that they are committed to science-based targets for reducing their own emissions, that they favor a price on carbon, and that they will not contribute to any politician who receives a failing grade on climate from the League of Conservation Voters.
- The equity demand would require companies to declare that immigrants should not be denied entry to America based on race, religion or national origin, that it is committed to ensuring its workforce mirrors the diversity of their potential labor pool, that it will pay and promote equitably, and that it will not support any political candidates who receive a failing grade on equity from a consortium of NGOs dedicated to this issue (e.g., NOW, NAACP, National Council of La Raza).
In Part II, we’ll discuss how to roll out the campaign.