Updated Sep 22, 2019

How CEOs trump politicians

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Walmart, which first banned assault weapon sales and now vaping products, is providing a template of how CEOs can move beyond a monomaniacal focus on profits.

Why it matters: It’s one thing to sign an unenforceable pledge to think more about employees and society, like most members of the Business Roundtable did. It’s another to take specific action while politicians dither.

In conversations with a half-dozen CEOs this week, we were stunned by how much pressure business leaders are feeling to take social action. If so, here’s what they can do:

  • JPMorgan Chase, Starbucks, Walmart, Amazon and many others increased their minimum wage [Updated]. Every CEO has the power to do this.
  • Delta Airlines returns billions in profits to employees — this year, a bonus equal to 14% of their annual pay — and has grown since making this change. Every company can do this. 
  • Amazon this week became the first to sign The Climate Pledge to be net zero carbon across the businesses by 2040 — a decade ahead of the Paris Accord's goal of 2050. An individual company can’t put a dent in overall pollution — but a bunch might.
  • Stripe, the online payment platform, announced last month that it plans to spend at least $1 million a year to pay for direct removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Stripe said in its emissions announcement: "For other companies: Please reach out to Stripe to join our commitment."
  • Bank of America last year stopped lending money to makers of military-style assault weapons.
  • Dick’s Sporting Goods paid a price in its earning after it initially made it harder to buy firearms in its store, but then went even further this year.

What else can be done:

  • They could also limit CEO pay if they wanted to narrow the gap in their own shop. 
  • All retailers control what’s on their shelves, so if they want to eliminate AR-15s, or vaping, or whatever — free enterprise permits it.
  • All companies control child care, family leave and health policies and can be as generous as they choose. 

The big picture: The new public assertiveness by corporations follows an earlier wave, after President Trump took office, of CEOs taking stands on immigration, climate, gender equality and other issues that their predecessors avoided.

  • Apple's Tim Cook, who has become increasingly vocal, said at a Fortune conference last year: "Apple is about changing the world. It became clear to me some number of years ago that you don’t do that by staying quiet on things that matter."

The bottom line: The pressure on CEOs from employees, customers and communities seems to only be intensifying.

Go deeper:

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Retail's climate change moment

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

As world leaders waffle on policies to head off the extraordinary climate change threat, the retail sector — America’s largest private employer — is moving on its own to cut back its environmental harm.

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Dick's destroyed $5 million of assault weapons after storewide ban

Dick's Sporting Goods. Photo: Diana Haronis/Getty Images

Dick's Sporting Goods turned nearly $5 million worth of guns into scrap metal rather than sending them back to manufacturers after the company restricted the sale of military-style guns starting in 2018, reports the Washington Post.

The big picture: A collection of corporate executives have been at the forefront of the national gun debate, with Dick's CEO Ed Stack often taking the lead, even as the NRA and Republican lawmakers criticized the company's policies. Stack has made changing Dick's gun policies a focal point of his role, per the Post

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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

At a moment when regulators, politicians and consumers are railing against companies getting too big, one behemoth has been growing under the radar: Walmart.

The big picture: Walmart already had its turn as the corporate villain in the 1980s. Now, as tech companies bear the brunt of the scrutiny, the retail giant is amassing wealth — earning $514.4 billion in revenue, the most of any company on Earth, in 2018.

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