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Feb 13, 2023

Companies scrutinized over engaging in ‘woke’ culture wars to make political statements

Tactic used to deflect from bad behavior and gain free publicity, Policy Exchange says

Companies are being more closely scrutinized for using their platform to make political statements to distract from ‘bad behavior’ and gain free publicity, according to Policy Exchange.

New research by the influential British conservative think tank finds that 23 percent of surveyed adults say companies primarily make political statements because they want free publicity, while 20 percent view these statements as a method of distraction from bad behavior, such as not paying enough tax.

The report comes in the wake of growing concern over commercial companies showcasing political positions, ‘often at the expense of their customers or employees’, according to the poll of 1,169 adults.

‘Sharing controversial beliefs’

More than half (58 percent) of surveyed adults disagree with companies’ forcing employees to declare gender pronouns such as he/him, she/her or they/them.

Only 12 percent of surveyed individuals support companies that fire employees for sharing controversial beliefs on social media, while 52 percent of adults oppose the idea and 18 percent disagree with the practice.

Nearly half (49 percent) of surveyed adults disagree with the idea companies should be able to refuse to do business with customers who hold political beliefs while 20 percent agree and the remaining 31 percent of polled adults remain undecided.

Companies scrutinized over engaging in ‘woke’ culture wars to make political statements
Bastiaan van der Linden, EDHEC Business School

But people have more mixed views when it comes to companies campaigning against the government. When asked whether they support or oppose the practice, 22 percent of adults are in opposition while 35 percent are supportive and 43 percent prefer not to say or say they don’t know.

Not every customer, employee or investor will fall in love with a company because it has an inspirational mission statement, says Bastiaan van der Linden, associate professor of corporate social responsibility at EDHEC Business School and director of the MSc in global and sustainable business. 

‘Some team leaders will dismiss business purpose as a bad idea from the marketing department. And some employees will grumble when a manager reminds them to aim for the greater good when customers are dissatisfied and sales are down,’ he says in the winter 2022 issue of IR Magazine.

Offering advice for IR professionals, Felise Kissell, IR and corporate affairs officer at Aramark, the NYSE-listed Fortune 200 provider of food, facilities and uniform services, says IROs should focus on a range of factors to gauge whether they are effectively adding value to the organization and shareholders. Kissell’s comments first appear in IR Magazine’s Best Practice Report: How to demonstrate the value of your IR program.

She suggests finding new buy-side and sell-side evangelists for the stock, ensuring the investment story is well understood, acting as an enabler for internal and external stakeholders and anticipating investors’ fundamental interests in advance.

‘Rise of woke capitalism’

Policy Exchange is preparing for the launch of its Corporate Culture Wars in the UK report which looks at the rise of ‘woke capitalism’, self-censorship in the workplace and reports of political discrimination against employees and consumers.

Prof Matthew Goodwin, newly appointed senior fellow and head of the Corporate Culture Wars project at Policy Exchange, says: ‘What this comprehensive polling shows is that large numbers of people are instinctively opposed to corporations getting involved in the culture wars.

‘They don’t think companies should be discriminating against workers because they might hold or express particular beliefs, they don’t think companies should refuse to do business with people who hold particular views and they don’t want their employer to be demanding they align themselves with particular political belief systems, such as gender identity theory.’