When a Company Takes a Political Stance, What Should We Do?

Who knew red cups could cause such reactions? Starbucks’ red holiday cups have recently been in the news because some have interpreted their lack of Christmas imagery as evidence that Starbucks is waging a “war on Christmas.” Most of my friends have looked at this controversy with amusement, recognizing that it hardly qualifies as newsworthy. But what about situations that are more serious? When the public learns that a company financially supports a certain political cause or a leader of a company is outspoken about their political views, should consumers use this information to decide whether to support the company?

Ultimately, I think that the issue comes down to personal conscience. But we do have a moral obligation to develop informed consciences. Here are three questions to ask yourself when thinking through this issue:

1) Will continuing to patronize the business directly undermine my integrity?

Imagine that you are a dog trainer who doesn’t believe that horses should be ridden in competitive racing. If the pet company you buy dog food from is a sponsor of a horse race, continuing to buy dog food from the company probably won’t undermine your integrity. However, if you run a shelter for injured and retired racehorses, it likely would undermine your integrity to continue to buy horse supplies from the company—at least so long as the company is sponsoring the races.

2) Does the political affiliation have bearing on the product/service the company is providing?

Let’s say you’re a vegetarian and you find out that Company X donates $40,000 to a lobbying group that advocates for butchers. If Company X sells computers, this political affiliation, while upsetting to you personally, doesn’t have direct bearing on the company. However, if Company X sells vegan-meals-to-go, it would make sense to stop patronizing the business because the affiliation to the lobbying group fundamentally undermines the company. Likewise, if the CEO is found to have given money to the lobbying group, in the computers example, it wouldn’t have bearing, whereas in the vegan-meals example, it would make sense for the public to demand the CEO’s resignation.

3) Is my conscience sensitive to public discourse?

Civil public discourse is part of how we inform our personal consciences and, as a nation, how we shape our collective conscience. Through this discourse, we are educated about various injustices or social ills, and through this discourse we become sensitive to the plight of others. Whenever a public conversation erupts about a company or a company leader’s political affiliation, ask yourself if you are reacting rightly to the conversation. If you are indifferent, seek to understand why others care and ask yourself if you ought to care as well. If you have a strong opinion, seek to understand other opinions and, in doing so, be open to the reality that you might be wrong, and be willing to adjust your perspective. Even if you don’t end up changing your mind, this exercise in imagination will season your conversation with grace.

As a concluding thought, remember that through public conversation, a business might be convinced to rethink their stance or political affiliation. While I am not naïve enough to think that profit-driven businesses will always or even often change just because the public says they should, I do believe that persuasion is more beneficial than coercion. Rather than threatening to boycott the company if they don’t give in to your demands, a more loving way to operate within civic society is to try to persuade a company to change, an action that could be as simple as creating a hashtag on Twitter.

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