Swelling employee protests and consumer boycotts have CEOs at large corporations spooked over how and when to respond to hot-button issues during the Trump administration.
Why it matters: With trust in government at a record low, people are looking to powerful businesses to shape the conversation around topics of national importance — and chief executives are torn over how to proceed without offending customers or shareholders.
By the numbers: Guns, abortion, immigration and nationalism are among the most controversial issues for companies to take a stand on, according to a Morning Consult poll, "Corporate Social Responsibility in the Trump Era."
- It's less controversial for brands to take a stand on civil rights, racial equality, criminal justice reform, affirmative action and LGBTQ rights, the poll found.
Brands with the best reputations among consumers are ones that stand for issues, regardless of whether those issues are considered liberal or progressive, according to an Axios/Harris 100 poll in March.
Certain industries and companies have chosen to rally around different issues, with varying outcomes.
- Guns: Companies are facing pressure to cut ties with the gun industry as mass shootings proliferate. And while Walmart raised the age limit for gun sales in response to the Parkland shooting last year, employees are calling on the company to do more after a shooting in one of its stores killed 22 people.
- Abortion: Hollywood heavyweights have threatened to boycott film production in Georgia if a "fetal heartbeat" abortion ban signed into law by the governor this year is allowed to take effect.
- Energy and climate: Amazon's employees used their weight as shareholders for the first time this year to demand changes to the company's climate policy. Ahead of Amazon's annual investor meeting, thousands of workers signed a letter to Jeff Bezos asking that the company stop offering cloud services to the oil and gas industries.
- Immigration: Workers at companies like Google, Whole Foods and Ogilvy are demanding that their employers stop providing services to ICE and its contractors at immigration detention centers.
- LGBTQ rights: Activists threatened to boycott Equinox, which has a policy of LGBTQ inclusion, after one of its big investors, Stephen Ross, threw a fundraiser for the president. Equinox, in a statement following the backlash, distanced itself from Ross.
Be smart: When it comes to taking a stand on issues, younger, liberal Americans are more likely to want corporations to get involved, according to the poll.
- This is why brands like Nike that cater to younger, more diverse customers have chosen to take strong stands on social issues.
Yes, but: Companies are still falling short of expectations. According to a recent global survey by Edelman, there's still a big gap between what employees want their employer to take a stand on and what the company is actually doing.
The bottom line: Big businesses have historically avoided wading into political drama. But as issues become more politicized during the Trump Administration, most corporate leaders are finding it impossible not to get involved.