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Tuesday, July 13, 2021

OPINION:

Those who live in corporate glass towers should not throw stones. 

Far too many C-suite executives have yet to learn the lesson of that paraphrased proverb. Some of America’s largest corporations are engaging in woke politics in an attempt to divert attention away from mistreatment of their customers, serious business problems, and significant evidence they’ve exploited foreign labor. 


American Airlines recently denounced election integrity legislation in Texas which requires voters to show some form of identification. That position is beyond bizarre given that ID is required to fly with American Airlines. What’s really strange is that American is dabbling in woke politics when its own house is in complete disarray. In June, it needlessly enraged passengers by canceling more than 300 flights. The airline had been warned in advance that it didn’t have enough pilots to implement its summer flying schedule. More cancelations are possible with insufficient training efforts leaving many pilots “simply not legal to fly.” The carrier ranked worst for two years running by the Wall Street Journal’s “Middle Seat Scorecard,” shrank passenger legroom during the pandemic while laying off employees and taking a $5.8 billion taxpayer bailout. Instead of trying to ingratiate itself with woke politicians, the airline should focus on passengers. And just as a hint, its new order directing employees to clean less extensively isn’t going to get it done. 

Similarly, Coca-Cola indulged in woke-speak by falsely equating Georgia’s popular new voter ID requirement with voter suppression. Instead, the company should focus on a better response to falling sales revenue than simply raising consumer prices. And let’s not pretend that the company owns the moral high ground. Coca-Cola was caught red-handed sourcing sugar from companies that benefit from Uyghur forced labor in China. After being exposed, Coca-Cola then lobbied against a bill in Congress that would crack down on the horrible forced labor practices.  

If the company truly had any interest in virtue, it would heed the bipartisan call to boycott next year’s Beijing Olympics. But by all indications, Coca-Cola is moving ahead as a top-tier “Olympic Partner” sponsor. Clearly, the company is mistaken if it thinks pleasing woke politicians is the recipe for winning back customers and revenue.  

Nike is so woke that it featured Colin Kaepernick in one of its ad campaigns then canceled a shoe line featuring the original Betsy Ross American flag after Kaepernick complained. Quick to speak up on American politics, Nike does more than merely look the other way regarding China’s abhorrent practices overseas. When a Houston Rockets executive spoke out in favor of protests in Hong Kong, Nike pulled the team’s merchandise from its stores in China. During a June earnings call, Nike’s CEO stated, “Nike is a brand that is of China and for China.” That would explain a lot.  

A report about the Qingdao factory producing shoes for Nike found it resembled a prison and appeared to be using forced Uyghur labor. Rather than taking a courageous stand, Nike (like Coke), lobbied against legislation aimed at ending this abuse.  

Among other companies resorting to “woke washing” to camouflage corporate sins are Levi Strauss, Starbucks, and Nordstrom which recently lent their names to an anti-election integrity ad. According to an international human rights leader, Levi Strauss “hasn’t done enough to change worker conditions in China,” where it maintains manufacturing operations. Last year the company paid millions in dividends to shareholders, even while it stopped paying its store workers and put thousands of workers on furlough. Starbucks stands accused of depriving Ethiopian farms of millions in revenue. Nordstrom is among the companies accused of profiting from the use of forced Uyghur labor and has had to apologize for racial profiling in its Nordstrom Rack stores. 

Corporate executives contemplating taking a position on political matters in which they have no expertise to distract from their own failures and mistreatment of customers are pursuing a doomed strategy. Consumers’ Research has a 91-year history of standing up for consumers, and the second phase of our Consumers First Initiative aimed at MLB and Ticketmaster launched this week is doing just that by putting corporations on notice that they should focus on serving their customers rather than woke politicians. Hopefully, C-suite executives are paying attention. 

• Will Hild is the executive director of Consumers’ Research, the nation’s oldest consumer protection organization. 


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