Brands Taking Stands | Companies Push Back as Trade Wars Roil Markets

Jul 11, 2018 1:15 PM ET

Brands Taking Stands Newsletter | July 11, 2018


Companies Push Back as Trade Wars Roil Markets

The global trade wars have begun, despite a rising drumbeat of concern from companies and trade associations.
From General Motors and Harley Davidson, large corporations to mid-sized and small businesses, companies have voiced their opposition. Trade groups have sounded the alarm: “The administration is threatening to undermine the economic progress it worked so hard to achieve,” said Tom Donohue, president of the US Chamber of Commerce, a longtime supporter of Republican economic policies in announcing a campaign to oppose the administration’s tariffs.
Ironically, this rupture between the private and public sectors comes under an administration and Congress controlled by Republicans—historically, the pro-business party. “This isn’t the natural order of history that large business groups oppose a Republican president, said Nancy Koehn, a business historian at Harvard.
“This is a genuine effort to take a wrecking ball to the whole international system of trade agreements,” Rufus Yerxa, a former US trade official who now leads the National Foreign Trade Council told Politico. “I think that’s something that’s causing a serious re-examination by business. You’re seeing industry after industry coming out and saying, ‘We don’t think that’s the way to do this, it will have very bad effects for us." 

What’s worse, it’s a trade policy business did not ask for. “Unlike most trade policy fights where the US government is working to advance the industries—the specific interests of a specific US industry or two—in this case, it’s very difficult sometimes to find a US industry or a US constituency for these trade actions,” said David French, senior vice president at the National Retail Federation, which opposes heavy tariffs on imports from China.

So how does a brand take a stand against unsought-for economic policies proposed by government?

Taking some basic steps could make a difference:

  • make a statement—the media notices and support is attracted
  • seek out allies and partner up — join with sector peers and trade groups to share ideas for campaigns and initiatives
  • start serious “scenario planning” to game-out strategies for future solutions—don’t wait for any downturns
  • review and re-affirm internal policies that align corporate and social values—such as diversity, sustainable supply chains, governance, and employee engagement
  • step up HR and leadership programs to counter the turbulence
  • look for unthought-of opportunities in changing markets
  • lobby Congress—the legislative branch may yet respond to pressure to support businesses hurt by tariffs 

One thing is clear in this muddle: the upheaval of the current world economic order has made it impossible for business to avoid taking positions on these trade issues, especially as they are driven by politics, not economics. Corporations of all sizes and from all sectors now find themselves where the worlds of long-time global trade practices and new nationalist trade strategy collide. Managing the fallout will be key to future success.


Hyatt Hotels and Starbucks Join the “Ban Plastic Straws” Movement

Single-use plastic straws account for only about 4% of plastic trash by number, and only about 2,000 tons of the nearly nine million tons of plastic waste that ends up in the ocean each year. Yet the common items are highly symbolic, being ubiquitous and, in many cases, unnecessary. A growing number of companies are taking action to restrict and/or eliminate their use. Among the latest is Hyatt Hotels, which said it will provide single-use plastic straws and drink picks only on request, and will offer eco-friendly alternatives “where available” throughout its 700 properties. This shift follows Starbucks’ statement that it plans to eliminate plastic straws from all 28,000 global locations by 2020. Last month, Royal Caribbean announced that its 50 cruise ships would not carry plastic straws, starting next year. IKEA has also committed to eliminating single-use plastic. Alaska Airlines will replace plastic straws and drink picks with compostable stir straws and citrus picks on its flights. Insome cities and countries, public policy is driving this change. Seattle—where both Starbucks and Alaska Airlines are base —became the first city in the US to ban plastic straws and utensils. Similar proposals are being proposed in New York and San Francisco, according to CBS News. Vancouver will ban plastic straws, foam cups and containers by next year, as will Scotland. Britain plans to ban plastic straws and cotton swabs, which has prompted McDonald’s to try out paper straws in the UK. The plastic straw issue is one stand where the goals of both the private sector and public policy seem to be in sync.

Airbnb Launches New Ad Against Supreme Court‘s OK of Travel Ban

Airbnb has aired a new digital ad as a reply to the Supreme Court’s approval of the administration’s travel ban. The spot shows clips of travel played in reverse, with the tagline: “To limit travel is to turn back progress. Let’s keep traveling forward.” Airbnb co-founders Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk said in a statement: "We are profoundly disappointed by the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the travel ban—a policy that goes against our mission and values. To restrict travel based on a person's nationality or religion is wrong. We believe that travel is a transformative and powerful experience, and we will continue to open doors and build bridges between cultures around the world." The campaign is the most recent effort by Airbnb to speak out against Trump policy, reports Ad Age. “Its 2017 Super Bowl ad took direct aim at the travel ban when it was first implemented, while the company also offered people affected by the ban free and subsidized accommodation.”

Investors Ask For More Employee Data

A group of international investors managing more than $12 trillion has written to 500 of the world’s top companies, calling for more information about the treatment of their employees, reports Reuters. More than 100 institutional investors from 11 countries, among them among them Schroders, UBS, Amundi, HSBC Asset Management, Axa Investment Managers, Legal and General IM, Nordea, Rockefeller & Co, and AustralianSuper, signed a letter sent by the Workforce Disclosure Initiative, coordinated by ShareAction, seeking better data on issues such as diversity, workers’ rights and health and safety in their supply chains. “As companies have been reinforcing their disclosures on environmental topics over recent years, we wish to see a similar effort with social factors,” Matt Christensen, global head of responsible investment, AXA IM, said in a statement. Vaidehee Sachdev, senior research officer, ShareAction, said “Investors and civil society want to see evidence that companies are proactively improving workforce practices for the betterment of business, workers and wider society.”


“My life experiences have instilled in me a deep appreciation for the power of diversity in making organizations richer and stronger. I believe that it’s an essential truth that when different perspectives are brought together, the end result is substantially greater. In charting a course through a changing media landscape, we need to be radically open to new ideas and approaches. What works well in one country or on one media platform may not work in others.

"This belief has reinforced my commitment to diversity at the highest levels of our corporate mission.

“We can’t continue to turn to the same voices every time. No company, let alone a media company in search of new models and approaches, can afford a culture where people instinctively shoot down diverse, challenging ideas and 'off-the-wall' concepts.”

— Justin B. Smith, chief executive officer, Bloomberg Media Group -- Excerpted from TriplePundit


Lisa D. Givan has been named associate vice president for diversity and inclusion and chief diversity officer by Indiana Tech. The post was established this spring during the school’s strategic planning process. Givan currently serves as associate director of diversity training at Kent State University. Prior to that post, she served the university as core trainer and special assistant for the Diversity Education and Training Lab; coordinator of multicultural initiatives and enrollment management & student services advisor; and coordinator of pre-college programs.
Greg Avis is serving as interim CEO of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation while the search for a new president and CEO is under way. Avis is a founding member and past chair of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation board.

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Continue the important conversations on corporate responsibility long after 3BL Forum with the Brands Taking Stands newsletter. Written by veteran journalist, John Howell, this newsletter is published every Wednesday morning.