It’s time for corporations to get off the sidelines on social justice issues

It’s both good ethics and good business to support the rights of Black Americans and women when they are under assault.

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SOURCEIndependent Media Institute

This article was produced by Local Peace Economy, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Public outrage immediately followed the enactment of the new Texas law designed to undermine abortion rights. While the law bans abortions beyond six weeks into a pregnancy, it, perhaps most perniciously, allows private citizens to collect bounties from anyone who helps a person obtain an abortion. The category of persons who “knowingly… [engage] in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion” potentially extends from the doctor who performs the procedure to the rideshare driver who transports the patient to the facility to abort the pregnancy.

Reactions from some corporations have mirrored the public response. According to corporate representatives, the legal expenses of Uber and Lyft drivers who are sued under the new law in the course of their employment will be paid by their respective companies. Lyft slammed the law as “an attack on women’s right to choose,” underscoring its denunciation with a pledge to donate $1 million to Planned Parenthood. Salesforce internally promised to help employees leave Texas, implicitly acknowledging the draconian nature of the state’s new posture with respect to abortion rights.

Corporations are similarly weighing in on racial justice issues, most recently acknowledging Juneteenth, the newly minted federal holiday that marks the day slavery ended in the United States (June 19, 1865—two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued). Amazon launched the “Juneteenth Unityfest” and promoted information about Juneteenth across its platforms, fresh off its $1 million donation to “13 Seattle-based community organizations that support communities of color.” Facebook announced that it was giving its employees the option to take the holiday’s observed 2021 date of Friday, June 18, off with pay. Google hosted an event meant to pay homage to Black history and culture. Starbucks increased the hourly wage on the holiday itself for some of its employees.

Corporations cannot continue to tepidly sit on the sidelines with respect to social justice issues in which they claim to be invested. The gestures highlighted above are not insignificant, but they are just that: gestures. If corporations are serious about supporting women and Black Americans as part of the global push for diversity, then now is the time to step up. These communities are under assault.

Texas’s new abortion law is part of a steady stream of efforts to weaken abortion rights in recent years. Legislation limiting the period in which people can obtain abortions, requiring patients to receive counseling prior to aborting their pregnancies, and mandating parent consent for minors has emerged across the country. Other states are seemingly eager to follow Texas in the race to the bottom on abortion rights. The Supreme Court, which is set to determine the constitutionality of Mississippi’s abortion ban past 15 weeks, may lend its seal of approval to such restrictions. So much more than health care is at stake here. Abortion rights also implicate the ability of American women to live as autonomous human beings.

As women’s bodily autonomy has been chipped away by challenges by states to the right to abortions, Black Americans are facing a multipronged war on their constitutional rights. The 2020 election cycle witnessed unprecedented levels of turnout from voters of color, especially Black voters. However, the recreation of that progress has been threatened by a flood of state laws designed to restrict voting. Federal legislation to blunt the impact of these laws has stalled in Congress.

Fresh off enacting new voting rights restrictions, Republicans in the Texas state legislature passed a new congressional map that reduces the number of majority Black and majority Latinx congressional districts. Close to 100 percent of the population growth in Texas between the 2010 census and the 2020 census was driven by Texans of color. Texas is far from the only state likely to create a legislative map that is unfavorable to Black Americans. In other words, those Black Americans who are able to make it to the polls despite the hurdles presented by restrictive voter laws may find their voting power diminished anyway by suppressive legislative maps.

Meanwhile, police violence against Black Americans is on track to be as deadly as it was in 2020 when a global movement mobilized to protest the murder of George Floyd. In fact, a new study from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation has shown that police violence is even deadlier than had previously been realized, with Black Americans bearing the brunt of such violence. Recently, Ohio police dragged a paraplegic man named Clifford Owensby out of his car by his hair. It is no wonder that Black Americans are 3.5 times more likely than white Americans to die from police violence.

Much more needs to be done by the federal government to address police violence. Although President Joe Biden’s Department of Justice has been much more assertive in investigating problematic police departments than the Department of Justice under former President Donald Trump, the investigatory model focuses on singular departments when institutionalized change is needed. It is Congress that holds the power to issue lasting reforms of this magnitude. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, for example, would require federal officers to wear cameras, ban qualified immunity, and place a federal ban on chokeholds, among other proposals. The bill passed the House of Representatives on March 3, but further talks of police reform have broken down in the Senate. Given the immense laundry list of legislative items for Congress to tackle, enacting meaningful federal legislation to reduce police violence seems unlikely in the near future.

Denunciations of harmful laws and gestures of support are important, but corporate influence can have a much greater reach when corporations put their money where their mouths are. Television writer David Simon shared that he will not film an upcoming series in Texas as he “can’t and won’t ask female cast/crew to forgo civil liberties to film there.” Corporations should similarly decline to establish franchises, open offices, or do business in Texas and other states with oppressive abortion laws, in solidarity with women partners, employees and customers.

It is unfortunate that so many corporations could acknowledge the horrors of slavery on Juneteenth, but remain silent in the face of its vestiges in the present day. Georgia, Texas, and Florida, among other states, have modified their voting laws in ways that have the effect (or the intention) of suppressing the access of Black voters to the ballot. Far from condemning these efforts, some corporations instead have been among the most generous financial backers of the state lawmakers behind these anti-democratic laws. In addition to taking their business to states without oppressive regimes, corporations need to acknowledge it is also time to stop patronizing lawmakers responsible for further marginalizing vulnerable communities.

Corporations also have a role to play to promote police reform, by ending their donations to police departments. These donations fund the police brutality that terrorizes Black communities and ends hundreds of Black lives each year. They also undermine corporations’ efforts, and the public perceptions of their sincerity, to support reform. Corporations would be wise to follow the lead set by Intel, which publicly supported the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. Corporations with strong ties to particular cities or states can pressure lawmakers to transform policing on the local and state levels.

Aligning more closely with these causes is both good morals and good business. Americans of color and women are powerful economic constituencies. Black consumers had more than $1 trillion to spend in 2020. Black Americans wield significant economic power through social media organizing and other activities as well. Many corporations have suffered losses in social and financial capital upon inspiring the ire of “Black Twitter.”

Public opinion polling on abortion rights and police reform suggests that corporations that take more aggressive approaches to social justice would receive popular support. A huge majority of Americans (81 percent) disapprove of allowing private citizens to collect abortion bounties as proposed under the Texas abortion law, according to the latest Monmouth University Poll, while 62 percent of Americans support the right to choose to have an abortion in some or all cases. Although support for the Black Lives Matter movement has declined over the last year, support for its objectives remains high. Nearly 70 percent of Americans polled by Morning Consult-Politico earlier this year identified police brutality as a “serious problem.” An estimated 75 percent of voters back the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, according to a Data for Progress poll. Simply put, corporations have strong incentives not to politically alienate their customer bases.

This political moment is a critical inflection point for the country and corporations. It’s time for corporations to decide whether they will emerge from this moment as allies of marginalized communities or as their oppressors.

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