To a degree that seems unprecedented, corporate America has responded to the nationwide protests following the killing of George Floyd with a wave of public statements condemning racism, promising of internal reform, and in many cases contributing financial support to Black Lives Matter or other anti-racism organizations.
But not surprisingly, there’s no shortage of skepticism about whether this is sincere or just adds up to empty talk and slick marketing. After all, we’ve been hearing for years about the supposed rise of “stakeholder capitalism” — a vision of business run not simply to serve shareholders with maximum profits above all, but to serve the best interests of employees, customers, the environment, and society at large.
Just last summer, The Business Roundtable — a lobbying organization representing almost 200 of the world’s biggest corporations, from Apple to Walmart — made headlines when it proclaimed the purpose of business itself now transcended serving shareholders. “We share a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders,” the statement said, listing as stakeholders customers, employees, suppliers, and “our communities and our country.”
The stakeholder idea always ends up feeling kind of niche: Most business leaders remain focused on the bottom line, fervently believing that the best thing they can do for their employees and for society is to remain profitable.
Around that time, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff issued a call for a “new capitalism,” focused on “employees, customers, communities and the planet.” Certain companies and brands — Seventh Generation, Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s — have walked that talk for years. But in the end, the stakeholder idea always ends up feeling kind of niche: Most business leaders remain focused on the bottom line, fervently believing that the best thing they can do for their employees and for society is to remain profitable.
And when the pandemic hit this past March, sparking massive government-ordered business…