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22 Mar. 2018 | Comments (0)

This weekend, Americans will join students in the March For Our Lives to demand that safety and the lives of our young people become a priority. Marchers will call for an end to gun violence and mass shootings in our schools today. Ever since the horrific murder of students at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) School in Parkland, Florida, not only are individuals responding to the MSD students’ call for action, but companies as well. It is curious why companies are rising now to support the gun reform movement. After all, there have been an average of five shootings per month at schools across the country since the slaughter of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. What makes this time special?

The confluence of student leadership and CSR

The MSD students are drawing on their trauma and anger to drive a powerful, strategic, and compelling movement to lead the way on gun reform. Furthermore, as catalysts for change, they are thoughtfully and wisely including diverse communities nationwide. Seeing their courage, force of will, compassion and empathy gives us hope for the future.

Importantly, the leadership from the students is intersecting at just the right moment with the more evolved thinking among companies regarding corporate social responsibility (CSR). In recent years, companies have expanded their CSR commitments by taking political positions on social, economic, and environmental issues. For example, companies made a strong stand against legislation that would promote LGBT discrimination. These corporations are motivated by their concern for their employees and customers. This social consciousness is the logical extension of CSR.

Another example is the instrumental role that companies played in helping to achieve a positive outcome at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP 21, held in Paris. Furthermore, when the current White House administration announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, corporate leaders balked, saying: “Leave politics and platitudes about saving the planet aside, experts say, because the companies' positions on the Paris accord boil down to their business interests.”

In this context, it is only logical that when the Parkland students gained traction with their powerful call to action, companies lined up with their support. Businesses recognize that their destinies are enmeshed with the health, vitality, and well-being of the communities where their employees and customers live and work. Today, companies understand that they cannot succeed unless they speak up and act on political issues that profoundly affect the people in whom they are invested.

Clearly, the tide has turned when the CEO of one of the world’s largest asset management companies—Larry Fink, BlackRock—calls on CEOs to address social challenges. Fink said: “To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society. Companies must benefit all of their stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers, and the communities in which they operate.” Fink asks companies “to demonstrate the leadership and clarity that will drive not only…investment returns, but also the prosperity and security of their fellow citizens."

On the right path, but a long way to go…

Following the Parkland shootings, multinational corporations, including airlines, car rental companies, retail chains, and package delivery companies, pledged to help make guns less accessible. These changes in corporate policy are consistent with the efforts of the many companies described in A Better World, Inc.: How Companies Profit by Solving Global Problems...Where Governments Cannot—companies that are growing value by engaging with stakeholders to find solutions to social, economic, and environmental challenges.

Much more is required to achieve the mission of March For Our Lives to protect our children, families, and communities. But companies are beginning to understand that decisions that are integral to the future of our nation will most certainly affect their own success.

  • About the Author:Alice Korngold

    Alice Korngold

    Alice Korngold advises companies and NGOs on strategy, board governance, sustainability, ESG, and diversity and inclusion. She is the author of  A Better World, Inc.: How Companies Profit by Solv…

    Full Bio | More from Alice Korngold

     

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