Perhaps one of the most concerning characteristics of today’s mega corporations, and a great contributor to their strength, is their political flexibility. Of course, some companies may be inherently political; such as Local Matters, who exist solely to project and increase the popularity of their political principles, or Eco Straws, who exclusively sell metal straws for environmental purposes, or the UK Small Business Network, whose mission is to promote and support small businesses in the United Kingdom. However, the vast majority of companies exist primarily in order to generate a profit for their stakeholders by offering a product or service. Throughout this article, I will be discussing this category of businesses, whose purpose is not inherently political, and yet they project political viewpoints as if they were the stance of the organisation, when in fact, these organisations are only “interested” in these political sways as a marketing tool. I refer to these currently-fashionable political trends as “social-political”; not necessarily genuinely concerning or ideological, but a seeming popular political stance, based on the surface of social media.
The ability of these organisations, to be simultaneously apolitical and openly ideological, is a controversial phenomenon, and although it is extremely more popular and obvious now, it is not a twenty-first century invention. In fact, the best known examples would come from eighty years ago, of businesses who supported the National Socialist Party in 1930s Germany. This includes International Business Machines, IBM, who remain a very popular multinational tech company today; this company provided the technology for the Nazis to easily and efficiently identify Jewish people and other “undesirables”, in addition to the vital technology used to track their transport to camps, supplied via their subsidiary company, Dehomag.
Other major companies which contributed to Nazi Germany include Volkswagen, Coca-Cola, Hugo Boss, Kodak and Bayer. Consequently, we see that these corporations will gladly take part in any politics so long as their profits continue to rise. Some of these businesses even continued their dealings with Nazi Germany after 1941, when the United States joined the war, and a number of them even falsified data in order to cover up their relationship with the enemy of their own nation. Additionally, many of these companies maintain their popularity and success today, with IBM pulling in a net income of 9.4 billion US Dollars in 2019. Despite their relationship less than a century ago, these companies will never be held accountable for their contribution with what is often described as one of the worst events in Europe’s history, because to the organisation and its employees, it’s just business.
On the other hand, people today do not recognise the political marketing of companies as “just business”. Due to the naive and trusting nature of their patrons, many huge organisations gladly latch onto the political trend of the day in order to present themselves as a better company than those who do not. Blindly, masses of people celebrate the political sways of mega corporations as if their employees actually held a consensus on the topic. We see this annually with the Pride-fashioned logos of hundreds of businesses, including Coca-Cola and IBM. These social-political trends have also forced these institutions to create extremely corporate mandates of “inclusivity” and “diversity”. Many office jobs now include mandatory “diversity training” in order to begin working there, often despite very little relation to the job at hand. The relevance of LGBT and diversity in a workforce is minimal. The companies just conform.
For example, IBM published a Corporate Responsibility Report in 2015, which included an article titled Employee Inclusion. The LGBT section begins by stating that “IBM has a long history with LGBT workplace equality.” – unfortunately, this long history does not extend back to the 1930s, before those who identify as LGBT were transported to camps using IBM technology, who ensured the utmost efficiency. This company, who has never since made any statement regarding their contribution to the systemic genocide of “undesirables”, now celebrates gay pride every year, and have even formed their own “LGBT executive task force that today is known as the Global LGBT Council”. Clearly, the organisation has no genuine care for any individual, gay or not. The companies just conform.
Although we cannot strictly confirm that the profits of a business rise in direct correlation to their social media political acts, we can observe the virtual backlash against companies who do not conform to the social-political trends, which, keep in mind, are only as deep as a keyboard. For example, New Balance Athletics, a sports shoe manufacturer and supplier, faced criticism on social media after donating to Donald Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign. Of course, this is not a reason for any refunds to be granted, so any sales already made could not be undone (despite as much as some customers may have wished it to be) and although data is inconclusive on whether their sales faced a direct correlation with these virtual consequences, there would certainly be some audience members put off by the organisation’s political donation, while others invested in a brand new pair of New Balance trainers because of their support for Trump. Ultimately, it would be disingenuous and potentially untrue for me to state that sales either went up or down due to this donation, because we do not know for certain.
Another example of a corporation which did not comply to social-political trends is Chick-fil-A, one of the largest American fast food restaurant chains. Founded by a deeply religious Baptist in 1967, the CEO position was inherited by the founder’s son, Dan Cathy. In 2012, Dan publicised his opposition to gay marriage, on account of his Christian values and in support of “the biblical definition of the family unit.”, in addition to donating to groups who were also against gay marriage, such as The Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Consequently, there was significant backlash from politicians and pro LGBT activists, including efforts to ban the brand from college campuses, airports and other places. New York University collected 11,000 signatures opposing the restaurant on their campus. Thousands tweeted and shared Facebook posts, some even marched the street with signs, vowing never to visit that restaurant again. Despite this, the sales of Chick-fil-A rose by 12% that year. Therefore we see that, despite the volume of critical voices, the profit of the business was not only unhindered, but increased, after the CEO made his controversial political stance known.
In the circumstances of New Balance and Chick-fil-A, these political stances were genuine beliefs and interests of their highest employees, whereas in the social-political trends of rainbow company logos and and Black Lives Matter instagram posts, these are simply an abuse of the ‘fashionable’ politics. Whether the organisation believes in them or not is irrelevant. If Germany had won World War Two, we could quite easily expect to see swastikas in the branding of these huge corporations today, because they would happily support whichever political belief is popular on social media at the time, even if it was not the most popular belief of the people, as seen with Chick-fil-A. If in fifty years, the social climate turns around and it is suddenly popular to be anti LGBT, corporations who display pride flags today would not protest; instead they would blatantly celebrate homophobic discrimination and include it in their products, in an attempt to squeeze every drop of money from their consumer base.
Companies even go so far as to indirectly attack themselves in order to pretend that they support a fashionable political cause. During the Coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown, many small businesses came under threat of closure and bankruptcy, thus it became socially-politically popular to support small, independent businesses. Coca-Cola latched onto this trend with posters which promoted “shopping local” – this is a multinational organisation which single handedly offers more than five-hundred brands in over two-hundred countries, generating a revenue of over 37 billion US Dollars in 2019. A multinational company of this size is the antithesis of “shopping local”, and clearly has no genuine interest in the success of small businesses who are being crippled under the economic strain of the lockdown. We could go so far as to say that this is an insulting message, coming from an far-reaching conglomerate, whose sole purpose is to generate unfathomable amounts of wealth.
In conclusion, companies just conform to what is popular on social media, even if it is not popular nation-wide. Following the loudest online voices is their ploy to appear attractive and more in-touch with their target audience. This is in fact an abuse of genuine political concerns, diluting the online political space with false support, and misrepresenting the company by creating a disingenuous image. Most companies will support whichever political cause is trending online at the time, often regardless of their own views. This is exactly why we may some day see massive corporations increasingly regurgitate a pro-Localist message, so long as Local Matters continues to promote and increase the popularity of its principles.
Published by Local Matters: thelocalists.org