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When and how to speak out about social justice

Jennifer A. Fitch

When is the right time for a business or organization to weigh in on social justice or political issues?

On March 31, 72 Black business leaders signed a letter opposing Georgia’s sweeping voting reforms. Those who crafted the new law argue it protects the integrity of future elections, while the executives who penned the letter say it disenfranchises access to the polls for minorities.

The open letter was quickly followed by a New York Times ad signed by hundreds of companies and industry leaders like Warren Buffet. The ad addressed voting rights. The Times then listed some notable omissions among the signatories.

Consumers have developed increased comfort with companies that promote causes, a notion that perhaps advanced since 2006 when TOMS Shoes started contributing a free pair of shoes to a developing nation for every pair it sold. Today, many companies boast efforts to plant trees or support women entrepreneurs in connection with sales.

The companies wading into issues, particularly political ones, should be prepared for blowback. Time will tell whether proposed boycotts on Major League Baseball or Coca-Cola have real effects on profits. However, the chatter online can cause angina in even the most stoic social media manager your company has.

The decision whether to speak out, speak up, speak against or speak for an issue primarily must be made on whether that issue is important to your company’s values. Don’t lend your two cents to every topic. Consider: Does this affect my employees? Does this affect my customers or clients? How does this position align with our mission?

The venue must next be considered. Most enterprises don’t have access to New York Times ads. They do have access to their own websites, social media channels and local media outlets. They have access to volunteerism opportunities they can provide to employees with a day off work.

The final consideration is ensuring the words don’t ring hollow. If you are going to say Protect the Unborn or Black Lives Matter, ensure that you say why. People today want more than platitudes.


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