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Social activism could turn the workplace into a ‘wokeplace’

The events of 2020 lead to important social activism, such as the Black Lives Matter movement and the campaign to end child food poverty, both of which prominent businesses took part in.

UK retailers pledged to help footballer Marcus Rashford’s End Child Food Poverty campaign, while companies such as Ben & Jerry’s, Microsoft and Uber, showed their support to the Black Lives Matter movement by releasing statements.

Yet critics argue that corporates should not have a voice on such matters, as it can appear to be a form of marketing for the brand itself, instead of support for a social movement.

For example, in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, when large companies, such as Nike and Netflix, posted a black image on their Instagram pages in support of the movement, they were inundated with comments asking why the brands had not donated to anti-racism organisations.

Speaking on day three of the Economist Innovation@Work Virtual Week, Anuradha Chugh, managing director, Europe at Ben & Jerry's, said businesses that take part in activism demonstrate their commitment to social issues that affect employees and consumers.

She said: “There should be no shame in being labelled as a ‘wokeplace’. Businesses that drive current social issues to the front of their agendas are simultaneously putting their employees' needs first.”

Further reading

Workforce online activism on the rise

Pushing for progress: the workplace's role in political and social movements, part two

Chugh said that customers now expect corporations to have a loud voice when it comes to social and political issues.

“Transparency, compliance and accountability are inescapable truths and ‘woke-washing’ won’t work anymore,” she said.

Ben & Jerry’s has always been pro-active when it comes to getting involved in social movements.

In June last year the ice cream company released a statement that said, arguing silence was not an option when it came to the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police, sparking global BLM protests.

Though welcomed by some, the statement also received some backlash, Chugh said.

“As a business and a brand, we knew that if we stayed silent on such a vital issue that we would lose the respect of our customers and employees.

“We knew that any backlash we received would be worth it if it could start a conversation, and that is how all businesses should feel.”

Chugh added that corporate activism has a prominent role in how a business should function in today’s society.

She said: “When you see the passion, dedication and pride that every employee within the company has when they know that what they’re doing can make a real impact and difference in the world, that’s priceless.

“I believe that businesses can be a force for good and that they need to use their voice.”