Sweet Nothings and Empty Promises: Corporate Hypocrisy – Labour Article
It will have been impossible to have missed how the Black Lives Matter movement recently captured the attention of the globe. People marched against the systemic police brutality faced by the Black community. However, what was surprising was the onslaught of support the movement gained from big corporations and conglomerates. Brands including Target, Walmart, H&M, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola have pledged millions of dollars’ worth of donations. Thousands upon thousands of posts clogged social media, with every company clamouring to ‘whitesplain’ why racism is bad. This only highlights corporate hypocrisy.
I can’t help but feel pretty disgusted by the blatant bandwagoning and hypocrisy. Nike, a company built upon the back of forced labour; L’Oreal Paris, who fired Munroe Bergdorf after she spoke out about racism in 2017; Washington Redskins with literally a racist name; NFL, who backlisted Colin Kaepernick for taking the knee against police brutality; and don’t get me started on the irony of Jeff Bezos coming out as a BLM supporter. All of these companies perpetuate the system that they now seemingly oppose.
The sad thing is you’ll know exactly the type of post I’m talking about. #BlackOutTuesday saw thousands of inane, meaningless statements from brands who have absolutely no right to make such statements. I think it is unlikely they’re going to make any efforts to change their own behaviour.
If it wasn’t so dangerous, it would be funny looking at brands’ Instagram pages; a sea of white models, then a plain black image, and suddenly an explosion of diversity. The attempts at anti-racism were so laughable, memes came fast and hard. Chris Franklin wrote a brilliant template for brands to co-opt. The outpouring of vapid statements represents a transition that the market has gone through in recent years. Brands have effectively made the decision that the demographic who value Black Lives Matter are the ones to pander to. They desperately hope that by whispering ‘sweet nothings’ to their progressive customers, they’ll make up the difference lost when the other customers actively boycott them for their BLM support.
They’ve actively evaluated the possibility of exploiting a social movement. They’ve deduced that they will make more money if they present a vaguely ethical or socially responsible attitude.
Thing is, this pattern of behaviour is (obviously) really damaging to the actual work that movements like BLM do. ‘Wokism’ – companies capitalising social movements for revenue – presents a number of barriers for further progress:
- It takes away from the actual work that needs to be done. It is not enough for a company to put out a statement if they’re not actually going to do the hard work at home and institute anti-racist policies and reconfigure their workspace. For example, in the case of the BLM movement, a company should investigate their own demographics and interrogate any issues that present themselves. If racial gaslighting seems to be prevalent, try to combat it in any way you can. Don’t just write a social media post about it.
- It drowns out the brands and activists that actually put in the work. Whilst they may be well-meaning, these statements clog up the space and drown out the voices of those we’re meant to be listening to. #BlackOutTuesday completely backfired. The hashtag was co-opted by so many people writing about how they were educating themselves that many weren’t able to reach or find the information about BLM that they actually needed. Instead, companies should be elevating Black-owned businesses or Black activists, using their platform to promote the message rather than their own slogans.
- It commodifies and exploits the issue and activism. By trying to placate consumers who want them to ‘take a stand’ with statements, companies actively try to profit off the movement, reducing it down to a dollar sign.
- It creates the illusion of progress. According to IPSOS, 58% of adults don’t trust a brand until they’ve evidence ‘real world proof’ that it has kept its promises. Maybe we kid ourselves into believing this. But, why else do we allow the exact opposite to continue? Why haven’t these companies such as Nike, McDonald’s, L’Oreal Paris and more shown their strategies and policies that outline how they will improve on race-related issues? If one were to quickly glance over social media around #BlackOutTuesday, the pure number of posts would have inspired hope and excitement for the future. These posts convince us that work is being done, whilst we have no insight into the true inner workings of said company. Full transparency is absolutely necessary for true progress to be made.
- It perpetuates a cycle of hidden lobbying and gatekeeping. As I said, when the consumer population has no idea what goes on behind closed doors, companies can easily shape agendas without affiliating themselves explicitly. In fact, Goods Unite Us found that the average consumer in America funds politicians and PACS 3x more through their purchasing choices than through direct political contributions. With your money, corporations ensure that policies that would harm their revenue are suppressed, no matter the cost to a social movement.
To me, it seems ignorant and just foolish to demand statements from companies who thrive on the system the way it is. Why would you expect ethical treatment from unethical companies? Full transparency is the way forward. If a company is racist, or greenwashes, or uses sweatshops, I want to know. If we’re being brutally honest with ourselves, we allow this behaviour from corporations because it alleviates our consciences; we kid ourselves into thinking that progress is being made.
I’m not saying you’re a horrible person for buying from them. I totally get it; I also can’t afford the insanely expensive – but ethically and sustainably made – jeans. But I think it’s important we be real with ourselves. Their ‘support’, without action, is a hollow marketing scheme; the equivalent to sending thoughts and prayers on Facebook.
Written by Senior Labour Writer, Abi Smuts
Point of Information
Make brands apolitical again – A Conservative Response
I find it funny how I can agree with Abi but for a completely different reason. Seeing brands virtue-signalling on social media was a highlight of the summer of 2020 that I did not want to see.
It was enough that my acquaintances have engaged in woke self-flagellation, I also had to experience this from the companies from which I buy products. There was a left-wing backlash when the CEO of Goya, an American food company expressed his support for Donald Trump. Then there was a right-wing backlash when multiple companies came out in support of Joe Biden and the neo-Marxist BLM movement.
I think we can all agree that companies getting involved in social and political issues isn’t the best idea. Companies should exist solely for profit; they should not be taking sides. Abi correctly highlights the irony of companies exploiting people whilst simultaneously posting a black square on Instagram in support of some vague social justice issue.
In a way, Abi unwittingly brings up an important point – the market will sort itself out. If the customers know that a certain company isn’t ethical, they will not shop there. Brutal honesty advocated by Abi is certainly a way to go. However, I’d also suggest that companies should remove any equality pledges, as it moves them away from genuine meritocracy and paves the way to dangers of affirmative action.
In a truly equal world, we would provide equality of opportunity, not the equality of outcome. Especially in the post-COVID world, companies should make the right choices that are not motivated by an illusion of social justice.
Quite recently, I read an article in Time magazine, suggesting that corporations should have more power, not less. This is not the way to go. As Abi suggested, companies have turned actual issues into profit thus minimising the importance of them. Do we really want companies being more involved in our lives? I don’t think so.
Written by Junior Conservative Writer, Dinah Kolka
Completely right but we need to understand why it does show progress – A Liberal Response
Unfortunately, I agree with a lot of what Abi has said. The hypocrisy of corporations, and I should add celebrities, is ridiculous. They are simply jumping on the bandwagon. Whether or not these corporations really care I cannot say, but what is true, is that the only time they seem to is when it comes up in the news.
However, there is one interesting case that Abi has misunderstood. I find it unfair to pick up on one thing, but it is really important to show a hint of progress. The NFL!
The NFL to date has been awful and Abi is right to note the NFL’s actions towards systematic racism and taking the knee. However, this has, due to the BLM movement, seen a huge change. When I say huge, I really mean it.
Colin Kaepernick has been invited back to the NFL. To be honest, I am not surprised he was not picked up by any teams due to him being out the league for so long and due to his terrible record as an NFL QB, but this is a huge step.
The NFL has run a massive campaign for BLM that is still going; Players still wear the names of victims of police brutality to remember them; a game doesn’t go by without full out support; players every game take the knee even in the face of boos from supporters. Even Drew Brees, one of the NFL greatest QB’s, received huge criticism after his comments on taking the knee and was forced to apologise. Black athlete’s experiences are being put on NFL social media still to this day, encouraging them to speak. Also, finally, the Washington football team removed their horrible name!
It has been a long time coming, but for once, the NFL actually is showing signs of progress. This has been a monumental shift. This isn’t just jumping on the bandwagon in this case, this is actually making a statement. A whole sport is finally making a statement. It is a sign of progress and unlike other corporations, it isn’t meaningless statements, it’s action.
Written by Senior Liberal Writer, Max Anderson
Hi, I’m Abi, a final year at Uni of Exeter studying International Relations and English. To me, it was only in A Levels that I realised how important politics was, when I was stuck in my male-only, extremely conservative Politics class having to constantly justify and defend my opinions to them.
My name is Dinah Kolka and I am going into the first year of Journalism at Napier University in Edinburgh. Recently, I graduated from Edinburgh College with an HNC in Media and Communications. This ignited my interest in politics and journalism.
I am currently in my second year of reading Politics at the University of Exeter. My first interaction with politics was at the tender age of four years old.