Islands of Tolerance

New immigration policies introduced in the past eight months have inspired nothing but shame for nations across the globe. The bomb that was Brexit dropped on an unsuspecting population during late-June 2016, and just as the aftermath was dissipating, a cataclysmic event ensued with the US election of Donald John Trump as the United States of America’s 45th president. Trump sprang into action the moment he was sworn into the presidency with a staggering number of executive orders and presidential memoranda. Among the newly signed orders was a 90-day ban on immigration to the US from seven Muslim-majority countries, a terrifying indefinite ban on Syrians entering the US and a Border Security Enforcement order detailing the construction of a wall on the southern border of the US. Though many of Trump’s actions exhibit concerning levels of nationalism, these examples are particularly heinous for human migration and inter-country relations.

Trump’s dominion has not been greeted with open arms, so much as with millions of arms interlocked in protest. Facebook Vice President Regina Dugan swiftly joined the fight, encouraging a 90-day flying boycott through the website nofly90.com; CEO Mark Zuckerburg belittled the order in a Facebook post, commenting that Trump should keep the nation safe from ‘people who actually pose a threat’. Other big brands have since spoken out to denounce the memorandum: Nike CEO Mark Parker and Ford CEO Mark Field have insisted the order threatens company values. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz sent a letter to employees just nine days after the inauguration, detailing plans to hire 10,000 refugees over a 5-year period and vowing to support Mexican partner Alsea throughout Trump’s reign. A uninformed onlooker might see these proclamations as appalled companies doing everything they can to help innocent political victims, but anyone with business insight knows no action by a company has pure motives. The face behind the company may truly feel remorse, but the corporate entity will see only opportunity.

Steve Jobs’ father was a Syrian immigrant to America in the 1950s. Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, was quick to capitalise on this fact, making a brilliantly strategic statement that condemned the immigration ban. In support of Apple’s figurehead he asserted, all in just 15 words: ‘Apple would not exist without immigration, let alone thrive and innovate the way we do.’ Apple has always been a fan of minimal advertising, with short, powerful slogans, and after recent scrutiny over their tin supplier’s sweatshop involvement, bigger statements needed to be made with even more positive publicity in reception.

Corporate social responsibility is an important part of business in today’s society of informed consumers. Businesses are forced to take an active role in public issues if they intend to retain market share – but it’s also a good source of publicity. It’s too early to tell what effect company statements regarding the immigration ban will have on profit margins, with the first quarter of the fiscal year ending on 31 December 2016. One could venture a guess, however, that they’ll reflect the public’s judgement on the way each has engaged with the executive orders and other political events. Companies that have taken a pro-diversity stance, like those listed above, remain more likely to have a positive image because despite Trump winning the election, he did not win the people’s vote. It’s in a company’s best interest to – at least superficially – agree with public opinion, chiefly due to our current obsession with boycotts.

Friedman’s famous remark that ‘The business of business is business’ is quite applicable in this instance. It is a company’s duty to know when and why to be public advocates if they want to be successful in the business world. Customer advocacy is becoming increasingly prevalent, with many businesses like the Salvation Army focusing on customer retention over budget, simply because of the long-term sustainability benefits stemming from that loyalty.

Customer advocacy is mutually beneficial within businesses too: Employees have an opportunity to express their opinions, while the business projects a positive public image. In light of recent immigration issues, the motives behind corporations pursuing the role of customer advocates may very well be because of their opinions on the matter,  but the reason it was passed by the board of businessmen and women is that there are financial rewards to reap. No matter how ‘good’ the actions of firms seem to be, there’s always financial motivation lurking in the corner.

None of this is new, as companies have long been a hugely influential force in society. Big name brands like Google and Apple are advocating for renewable energy like never before, and the world is waking up to the realisation things need to change. The racial discrimination of apartheid in South Africa was abolished with the aid of business advocates in 1991, and more recently, the LGBTIQ+ community have been joined by many large corporations speaking out against discrimination they face. Even now, amidst oceans of hatred these companies are islands: tirelessly battling to subdue waves of bigotry.

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