Can Corporations Truly Support Social Movements?

Por: MA. Clara Franco Yáñez
Master en Asuntos Internacionales, por el Instituto de Posgrados en Estudios Internacionales y del Desarrollo en Ginebra, Suiza

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Corporations are dominating today a substantial part of economies. I’m not here to just unoriginally criticize that across the board: undoubtedly this has had a few benefits for mass production and mass delivery of goods and services which we enjoy, especially a wider availability of technological devices. For better and for worse ( often for worse) corporations have set standards of labor, working culture, and the legal landscape in which they operate. They have grown so incredibly influential to mass culture at large, that now it’s not often clear whether they are responding to markets, or markets are responding to them.

So a relatively new tendency is to see big, recognizable corporations with hugely lucrative brands embracing social movements – said movements themselves morphing into a sort of “brand”. One that comes to mind is Black Lives Matter, or the embracing of Pride Month and LGBTQ flags during the month of June. In a very general sense we can ask; are social movements encroaching into corporate life, or is corporate life truly embracing or adopting social movements?...

But of course, I’m not here if not to comment on why this can be problematic. Any social movement that truly aims to disrupt a statu quo has to be, almost by definition, uncomfortable to many people and especially those at the top of wealth or power structures. It has to be socially disruptive in ways that many will not accept, which is not the “job” of a manufacturing or services corporation. And some critics believe that a “true” social movement can only be one born from the “grassroots”, coming from below and not necessarily embraced by those above. Can corporations truly be banner-carriers for social movements aimed at changed and upheaval?... Should they be?

It’s also obvious to say – and not a huge discovery – that corporations will follow the money; many also point out at this “embracing” of a certain flag for a short period of time, as a marketing ruse. One that is often hypocritical. Internet stories abound, for example about “X” corporations embracing the LGBTQ flag during Pride Month only to still discriminate internally against queer people. But again, we can find positives. Something can be said about their role in making social problems visible; which when done by a massive corporation whose brand everybody can recognize, does indeed become a “mass” message. When even toddlers can recognize a particular logo, and the company that owns this logo is suddenly embracing the flag of a particular social cause, conversations are sure to follow. This “visibilization” can – again – be problematic in itself; if only those causes or movements which corporations pick as worthy or important are being made visible.

This “visibilization” is welcome, but it is important to stay critical and to take corporate action with a huge grain of salt. Corporations are never, and cannot be, unmotivated activists, can probably never be truly unbiased advocates, and will go in whatever direction leads to the most profit. Would they ever take up a cause that truly harmed client base and stakeholder interest?