• Nuno Moreira da Cruz

Are Companies and CEOs able NOT to speak out? It doesn't seem so…


March 28th, 2021

In this HBR article, the CEO of Ben & Jerry (one of the most relevant “activist companies”, alongside others like Patagonia) explains why it is so important for the Company to speak out on social issues that really matter and could affect their values. His quote “We do these things not to sell more ice cream but because we care about people and have values. All businesses are collections of people with values; it’s a force that’s always there” sets the tone for the article. Also in this article, the CEO of PWC US, Tim Rayan, referring to the dramatic events in Capitol Hill says “I realize our firm, like our country, has many different views politically. It’s not my job to tell people what their politics should be. It is my job to make sure the values of PwC are lived by all of our people. And that’s where I try to stick: to the values of our firm”. In a recent survey conducted by Chatterji and Toffel, it is revealed that this trend is undeniable and people expect CEOs to speak up, especially when it comes to issues like pay equality (84% expectation), environmental issues (78%), domestic violence (77%), parental leave (76%) or race relations (72%). This is a crucial issue and quite a challenging one for most senior executives, due to the nature of emotions that are typically attached to them. Clearly, an important trend in the Responsible Business arena, one to follow close in the years to come: are Companies and their CEOs able NOT to speak out when significant social issues are happening around the globe? Conventional wisdom has always pointed in the direction of “please avoid talking on these issues, Companies are not supposed to take a stance, consumers have all sort of views and we want them all”. Right? Well, things may be changing and the benefit you may have following the conventional wisdom may have quite a significant cost via impact on your reputation - and consumers' brand loyalty may vanish. The trade-off is not clear…to say the least. The reality is that Globalisation and Technology are channeling all key environmental and social issues into the global public arena. Citizens and consumers are not willing anymore to let go. I would suggest that it will be increasingly difficult for Companies and CEOs to try and stay neutral. If that is the case, then it becomes immensely important to have a process, as Ben & Jerry do, to inform the right decisions to be taken (when and how to speak out? With whom to engage? How to reinforce that message in everything we do? How do we make sure we are “clean” on this one?). And this would just be the beginning. The next step would mean getting ready to answer the question Tim Rayan asks: Can we as a group of CEOs help prevent bad things from happening? Nuno Moreira da Cruz Executive Director Center for Responsible Business & Leadership