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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.

Go deeper

31 mins ago - World

U.S. will give Russians written response to NATO demands, Blinken says

Blinken and Lavrov shake hands in Geneva. Photo: Russian Foreign Ministry / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed after a meeting with his Russian counterpart on Friday that the U.S. will provide written answers to Russia's security demands next week.

Why it matters: Russia claims to be waiting for "concrete answers" to its demands that NATO rule out further expansion and roll back its presence in eastern Europe before deciding its next steps on Ukraine. But the U.S. and NATO have called those proposals "non-starters," and Friday's meeting offered no breakthroughs, so it's unclear how written answers might change the equation.

More surprises await scientists at Antarctica's "Doomsday Glacier"

Cliffs along the edge of the Thwaites Ice Shelf in West Antarctica. Photo: James Yungel/NASA

Researchers like David Holland, an atmospheric scientist at New York University, are in a race to understand the fate of a massive glacier in West Antarctica that has earned a disquieting nickname: "The Doomsday Glacier."

Why it matters: Studies show the Thwaites Glacier (its official name) could already be on an irreversible course to melt during the next several decades to centuries, freeing up enough inland ice to raise global sea levels by at least several feet.

Updated 3 hours ago - Health

The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Omicron's blitz around the world has underscored the need for a new arsenal of COVID vaccines and therapeutics, experts say — and that may require an effort akin to Operation Warp Speed 2.0.

Why it matters: The virus will continue to evolve, potentially in a way that further escapes vaccine protection, and the best way to prevent more global disruptions to everyday life is to have tools ready to combat whatever comes next.

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