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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Companies may feel more pressure to speak out about controversies than in the past. But boycotts against Coca-Cola and Nike this week demonstrate why it's not always a cut and dry win if they do.

Why it matters: Two years ago, hundreds of top CEOs agreed their purpose shouldn't just be about shareholders, but all stakeholders — including their supply chains, customers and employees.

What's happening this week...

On the one hand, Coca-Cola is learning that if you speak up about something once, there is an expectation to follow through all the way:

  • Activists say they will boycott Atlanta-based Coca-Cola for not outright condemning a newly passed bill that changes voting laws in Georgia.
  • "This past summer, Coke and other corporations said they needed to speak out against racism. But they’ve been mighty quiet about this," organizer Bishop Reginald Jackson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

On the other hand, retail brands like H&M, Nike and Burberry are learning that if you speak up about concerns, it can backfire if one of your top markets is notorious for evading those issues:

  • In China, all three companies are losing Chinese brand ambassadors, facing boycott calls and being wiped off state-controlled apps after speaking out against sourcing products from Xinjiang because of forced labor concerns.
  • "Companies are really in the crosshairs ... with the potential of losing access to the consumer market," Mary Lovely, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute, a think tank, tells Axios.
  • If the subsequent stock price drops are any indication, there are fears the tension will crimp sales. Shares of Nike and Adidas fell as much as 5% on Thursday.

The bottom line: Companies have moved away from saying they care only about growth. But if standing up to issues also gets them in trouble, what should companies do?

Go deeper

Georgia activists call for Coca-Cola boycott over GOP voting restrictions

Photo: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

Activists in Georgia are calling for a statewide boycott of Coca-Cola until the company speaks out against measures moving through the state legislature that would restrict voting access, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

Driving the news: The massive Atlanta-based company said in a statement that it supports a "balanced approach to the elections bills that have been introduced in the Georgia Legislature this session," adding: "The ultimate goal should be fair, secure elections where access to voting is broad-based and inclusive."

Senate Republicans warn corporate America over Iowa House race

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Senate Republicans are warning companies that cut off donations to the GOP after the U.S. Capitol attack that their standing on the Hill may suffer if they don't now speak out about Democrats' efforts to overturn a Republican House victory in Iowa.

Why it matters: Democrats are trying to expand their narrow margin in the chamber, a vital consideration heading into midterm elections, in which the party in power historically loses roughly two dozen seats.

CCP releases two jailed Canadians after Huawei CFO deal with DOJ

Photo: Sheldon Cooper/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Two Canadians imprisoned by the Chinese government for over 1,000 days have been released and are expected to arrive in Canada on Saturday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday.

Why it matters: Their release comes hours after Huawei Technologies CFO Meng Wanzhou reached a deal with the U.S. Department of Justice that resolves the criminal charges against her and could pave the way for her to return to China.