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Innocent backlash: should companies take a stance on social issues?

Innocent drinks has deleted a Twitter thread about gender diversity advice from the trans charity Mermaids after it received backlash from commenters.

Last week the smoothie company posted a series of tweets based on work it had done with the gender-variant and transgender youth charity.

The tweets included definitions of transgender-related terms such as ‘deadnaming’ and ‘misgendering'.

After receiving abusive replies to the thread Innocent then posted a statement saying it had deleted it because comments under the post were not in line with company values. 

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Some users were disappointed by the response, and asked why the brand did not just turn replies off.  

One user commented: “If you’re going to performatively post about LGBTQ+ issues don’t just delete the post once your brand is getting backlash from the hateful right.” 

In response, some commenters declared a boycott of Innocent due to its pro-trans stance, while others expressed concern over the company's partnership with Mermaids which has found itself at the centre of several controversies. 

But should brands make a stand on social and political issues? Or is it neither their place or responsibility? 


Fear should not compromise organisational values 

Nadia Nagamootoo, founder of diversity and inclusion consultancy, Avenir Consulting said organisations should be clear on what they stand for when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “Organisations and particularly leading brands have influence in society and therefore, in many ways, have a responsibility to move their conversations into the public space.   

“An organisation should be prepared for the fact the outside world isn’t made up of liberally, open-minded Innocent employees.  

“What happens, though, is that fear kicks in because when a company is exposed to such negative comments on their socials, it can be highly detrimental to their image and reputation.   

“However, it is only detrimental if handled poorly. Innocent deleting the tweet and closing the conversation is demonstrating performative allyship. They are willing to stand by the trans community, but only in certain circles where it’s safe.   

“Companies need to overcome the fear, discomfort and intimidation of putting their views into the world in the knowledge that the power they hold can support real change.” 


Identity issues are being used a marketing tool 

Simon Fanshawe, co-founder of diversity and inclusion consultancy Diversity by Design, said brands should avoid virtue signalling through marketing.

He told HR magazine: “We can tackle this question by looking at two contrasting cases. 

“The first is Nike, and their vocal support for the American footballer, Colin Kaepernick, when he took the knee.

"Their support for taking the knee matches precisely with their target demographic. In other words, they have a huge young black customer base and this was a sports person taking a stance against racism, so it was completely consistent with the company. 

“We can't know whether that was a political decision on their part or a marketing decision but the combination of both made for a clear reason to speak up. 

“If you look at another case - Bud Light’s campaign with [trans influencer] Dylan Mulvaney - it was a deeply opportunistic attempt by a marketing person to appeal to a certain demographic, completely ignoring their existing customer base.  

“It was surfing on what they saw as a bit of a Zeitgeist, without any real depth of thought. They unwittingly waded into a debate which is guaranteed to be divisive.

"If they were trying to be a brand that really hosts debates and knows a lot about difficult subjects, that’s different. But they picked up this campaign to be trendy and to be current. 

“So the overall point is that actually companies really have to ask themselves why they’re speaking up on a certain issue. And also ask themselves – if they want to be in an activist space – have we thought about this issue deeply? Or are we just saying what’s trending?” 


Standing for what is right is good for business 

Adrien Gaubert, co-founder of LGBT+ networking platform, myGwork, advocated for brand solidarity in the face of hate.

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: "We know that many companies want to be allies and stand by the LGBT+ community, and have engaged in external campaigns, but often this is done without having done the vital internal training and inclusion work first.  

“This is actually one of the biggest pitfalls because when there is any backlash, the fear and lack of understanding around these issues, particularly by key decision makers, often results in an organisation completely withdrawing their support for the LGBT+ community, instead of doubling down. 

"We believe standing strong in support for the LGBT+ community, despite backlash, is not only the right thing to do, but is actually good for business. But to do it successfully, companies need to do the groundwork and ensure the educational work is done internally first to get the buy-in and support of everyone in their organisation.” 


Neutrality often feels like complacency 

Joanne Lockwood, founder of diversity and inclusion consultancy, SEE Change Happen said neutrality comes at a cost.

Speaking to HR magazine, Lockwood said: “In today's hyper-connected era, organisations are navigating a complex terrain where maintaining brand value meets taking a stance on cultural and political issues.  

“Support for marginalised communities often stirs backlash, threatening boycotts, and brand damage. Despite the vocal resistance, the majority supports inclusivity, and history tells us that progress, while challenging, eventually triumphs. 

“Neutrality might seem a safe harbour, but it often feels like complacency, potentially alienating employees and customers. A company's values and ethos are integral to its brand identity; standing for something really matters. No one wants to see performative allyship.  

“I believe that companies must strike a balance, evaluate their core values, understand stakeholder expectations, but critically they must align public statements with internal commitment.  

“Businesses that stand firm in their principles, withstand controversy, and advocate for inclusivity are not just entities for profit. They are influential agents of social change, and their courage gives us hope for a more inclusive future.”