Tim Erblich, Chief Executive Officer, Ethisphere
“The arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” This quote, popularized by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, is my favorite. It is optimistic and has the audacity to consider that goodness will prevail.
We are starting a week that celebrates the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the inauguration of a new president in the White House, joint events that prompt pause and consideration that while the arc points towards justice, it will not happen automatically. It takes a lot of work by a lot of people, institutions, and organizations to realize justice, and indeed, address the many challenges we as a society face today.
A focus on values is central to bending the arc. And from those values, actions. Actions that help to rebuild the trust of a population that has been put to the test. Where do we start? I would like to suggest that the work has already begun by companies.
There has been a shift among business leaders, an understanding that they must stand up on social issues, and consider actions grounded in purpose. The latest Edelman Trust Barometer confirms this development, with business as the most – and only – trusted institution during the pandemic, seen as both competent and ethical. The impact of business leadership has been echoed by CEO participants in Jeffrey Sonnenfeld’s Yale’s Chief Executive Leadership Institute (CELI).
“There’s no question that our voice is seen as more important than ever,” stated Ed Bastian, the chief executive of Delta Airlines, in a recent poll of CEOs by the New York Times.
At Ethisphere, through our Business Ethics Leadership Alliance (BELA), World’s Most Ethical Companies recognition, global events, and key initiatives, like the one we launched last year on Equity and Social Justice, we have a front row seat in seeing how companies seek to address these complex challenges. Some are prompted into action through public or regulatory pressure, others are responding to societal trends, but most recognize, as we do, that business integrity is the foundation for outstanding and sustainable long-term performance.
Take Starbucks. It recently announced new initiatives to advance racial equity in its communities, including a $100 million Community Resilience Fund to support business and community growth in BIPOC neighborhoods. It also launched a partnership with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy by sharing educational resources and prompting partners to volunteer for the Freedmen’s Bureau Transcription Project.
Starbucks is not alone. As part of its $100 million Racial Equity and Justice Initiative (REJI), Apple just announced new projects to help dismantle systemic barriers to opportunity and combat injustices faced by communities of color. These efforts include the Propel Center, a global innovation and learning hub for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs); an Apple Developer Academy to support coding and tech education for students in Detroit; and venture capital funding for entrepreneurs of color.
Senior corporate leaders recognize that their credibility to weigh-in on social issues is dependent upon transparency. Noteworthy examples include Uber and AT&T. Uber issued the first of its kind Safety Report providing details and data of its safety progress and outlining steps the company is taking to guide improvement. This includes partnering with more than 200 gender-based violence prevention experts, expanding its safety team, and adding product features including an In-App Emergency Button, among other actions. AT&T’s Diversity and Inclusion Report cites workforce demographics, initiatives, and stories of its employees.
Global issues are also on corporate agendas. Microsoft recently announced an initiative to help empower governments and other stakeholders in their fight against corruption, which according to the UN, has a global cost of $3.6 trillion dollars a year, equivalent to 5 percent of global GDP. The Microsoft Anti-Corruption Technology and Solutions (ACTS), will leverage the company’s investments in cloud computing, data visualization, AI, machine learning, and other emerging technologies to enhance transparency and to detect and deter corruption.
Sustainability is also a top priority, with many aligning to science-based global emission targets, accelerating the circular economy to eliminate waste, and other moves. Investors, too, recognize the importance of sustainability with an unprecedented increase in ESG funds.
Companies are also doing things in small ways that have big impact for people. NVIDIA and Mastercard offer work-life benefit packages that include back-up caregiving for children, parents and other dependents.
From climate change to the pandemic, equity and yes, social justice, companies are taking steps of all sizes. These actions are important. Some may argue that companies could do more. True, we all can.
The arc of the universe is indeed long, and justice still elusive, but I am hopeful.
About the Author:
Timothy Erblich is the Chief Executive Officer of the Ethisphere Institute, the global leader in defining and advancing the standards of ethical business practices. As CEO Mr. Erblich is responsible for ensuring strong growth for the company through his charting of long and short-term strategies aimed at developing standards and best practices for companies who are committed to ethical business practices. Mr. Erblich is currently a Board Member on the American Diabetes Association (ADA) Research Foundation Board.