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Business leadership in society

Disney, Bud Light and Corporate Activism

Businesses today face increasing pressure from their stakeholders, from employees to customers to investors, to take on a “political” role and speak out on the pressing social issues of the day. But companies that do so often walk a fine line and struggle to navigate how to do it right. Two recent media stories, those of Disney and Bud Light, are illustrative of how this can play out, and what the challenges can be to both speaking out and staying silent. For Disney, it began last year when CEO Bob Chapek initially refused to take a public stance on Florida’s…

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Why corporate leadership is critical to progress on sustainable supply chain management

There is no question that a global framework of strong laws and regulations would be the best way to ensure sustainable supply chain practices. In a fractured global economy, however, with few worldwide or enforced sustainable supply chain standards, progress on better practices will continue to require corporate leadership backed by consumers and the public. In the past…

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What is the Private Sector’s Responsibility to Democracy?

From the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol to the protection of voter rights to supporting Ukraine by pulling out of Russia, business is increasingly being looked to not only to support social issues such as transgender rights and anti-racism but also to engage directly in defending the institutions of democracy. In the wake of the Capitol attack, for example, Twitter banned Donald Trump and PayPal suspended payments through his website and many companies blocked funding for Republican politicians who spoke in support of the attack. This engagement is welcomed by many but also criticized, with Senate minority leader…

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Beyond ESG: Corporate Activism and Moral Leadership

“With great power comes great responsibility” is an old adage that frames well the moral and political leadership challenge now confronting business leaders. Large firms are among the most successful global institutions we have, with over half of the world’s top 100 economies by revenue now global corporate and financial firms with an impact, reach and resources exceeding that of many nations. It is not surprising that in this environment, society is looking to business to take greater leadership and responsibility. Sixty-eight percent of respondents in the 2021 Edelman global survey believe that CEOs should step in when the government…

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Beyond ESG – Collaborative Governance the Next Challenge to Business

The pandemic and growing climate crisis have thrown into sharp relief the critical role large firms now play in society, not just as economic entities, but as key social institutions expected to work with and alongside government to address the myriad of systemic challenges now facing us, from climate change to inequality. In his 2018 letter to CEOs, Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, the world’s largest institutional investor globally, summarized this new role for business well: “We… see many governments failing to prepare for the future…As a result, society increasingly is turning to the private sector and asking that companies…

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Corporate structure is neither the problem nor the solution to increasing sustainability

Some people say the solution to the ESG challenge is to embed social-purpose statements into corporate charters, and that this will oblige companies to consider all stakeholders and to measure and report on their social effect. This sounds good – but as we engage business in trying to meet the sustainability challenge, is corporate structure the right place to focus?

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The Six New Rules of Business

A Review

“Tell me which of the pressing issues of our time keep you awake at night, and I will tell you how the old rules of profit maximization and short-term thinking contribute to those problems,” Judy Samuelson writes in the introduction to her new book, The Six New Rules of Business: Creating Real Value in a Changing World. The rules are changing. The COVID-19 pandemic and other recent crises have made it clear that business and society are more intertwined than ever before, and the old notions of “what is good for business” are no longer sustainable for society – or…

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Pandemic and political crises reveal new role and challenges for business

The current pandemic and growing climate crises have thrown into sharp relief the critical role large firms now play in society, not just as economic entities, but as key social institutions and political actors. A decade ago, would we have imagined a scenario where business organizations are on the front lines of the fight to preserve democracy and to remove a president from office? (“This is chaos,” a statement from the conservative American Manufacturers Association read. “This is sedition and should be treated as such. The outgoing president incited violence in an attempt to retain power.”) Would we have anticipated…

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Businesses and BLM – Evaluating their commitment

The last few months have seen a moment of national reckoning, as Americans confront the racial inequalities that have underpinned society for centuries. And the corporate world is finding that it can no longer stand on the sidelines. As consumers increasingly expect businesses to take greater responsibility for their impact on society, companies have begun more and more to speak out on a wide range of social, environmental and political issues. As the May 25th murder of George Floyd by police, the latest in a long list of brutalities and injustices perpetrated against the black community, sparked a wave of…

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