We spoke to Christopher Davies, International Director of Corporate Responsibility and Campaigns at The Body Shop International and Chris Gale, European Social Mission Strategy and Policy Manager, Ben & Jerry’s, two companies with a long history of social activism, to learn how business can leverage their capabilities and influence to mobilise supporters towards action in support of social change.
Companies have a long history of putting their weight behind contentious social issues. Quakers from the business community played an important part in the campaign to abolish the slave trade and slavery in Britain. This is considered the first social change movement where business was a primary actor, challenging social norms and the way that business was done.
Over the last couple of years we have seen a number of companies voicing support for same-sex marriage, anti-discrimination legislation and refugees. In the UK the clothing company Jigsaw launched a high profile ad campaign that celebrates immigration and challenges the negative and divisive anti-migrant narrative that has prevailed in the UK.
Companies are responding to the polarisation of society, particularly in the US and Europe, but increasing business involvement in social change also reflects the changing nature of corporate leadership. That is a growing awareness, by companies, of the need to positively shape and influence the world that they operate in, not just through products and services, but by leveraging unique competencies to help support progressive policy, influence decision-making, shape social norms and challenge the most unjust aspects of society. The latest Weber Shandwick research on CEO Activism finds that more than half of millenials say business leaders have a greater responsibility today to take a stance on thorny issues then they used to.