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The Retired Investor: Corporate Activism Comes of Age

By Bill Schmick
For decades, corporations stuck to their knitting, while letting Washington and the voters decide how to deal with social and political issues. But times are changing as companies become bigger and more powerful.
Corporations are speaking out on issues from LGBTQ rights to gun control. To some politicians, managements and their boards are throwing their weight around in ways that make elected officials uncomfortable. At first, I dismissed much of their actions as simply rhetoric, or just good public relations, but more companies are speaking out frequently on many issues.
Take the gun control issue. U.S. politicians on both sides of the aisle have failed to pass legislation that would reign in the slaughter of our citizens (especially our children) for decades. In response, some companies such as Salesforce, Shopify, Amazon, Walmart, and eBay, have taken matters into their own hands. Several companies have simply banned sales of firearms on their platforms, or have refused to supply e-commerce software to gun sellers. Their actions have all but stopped online sales of firearms in the U.S.
Other issues such as abortion, LGBTQ, and voting rights have also been taken up by a wide spectrum of corporations. Film studios have boycotted the state of Georgia, for example, over abortion rights, while Bank of America and PayPal forced North Carolina to roll back a bathroom bill that discriminated against transgender people.
Most of the big social media companies such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google, are actively attempting to limit misleading or false information, as well as hate speech, on their platforms. To their credit, the backlash from some politicians and individuals has not deterred them from pursuing those goals — and they are succeeding.
And while the country continues to debate and argue over the need to require vaccinations, corporations are not waiting around for Washington to make up their minds on that either. Proof of vaccinations started with retail shops and restaurants, which are on the frontline of potential contagion from the latest surge of the coronavirus Delta variant cases. Since then, the number of employers who are posting jobs requiring proof of vaccination is steadily increasing. The number of job postings on Indeed.com, an online employment website, for example, requiring vaccinations as a job condition, has increased by 90 percent over the last month. Google, Netflix, Disney, Morgan Stanley and Facebook are just some of the big companies involved in this trend.
You might also remember President Biden's effort to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour as part of the $1.9 trillion COVID relief package. It was shot down back in February by the Senate parliamentarian, who would not include it as part of the reconciliation budget process. Republicans refused to back it, claiming that it would hamper small businesses in various parts of the country. Fast forward to today. Corporations, both large and small, took matters into their own hands. As of June 2021, almost 80 percent of U.S. workers are now making more than $15 an hour, according to a Washington Post newspaper survey.
Corporations have always had a fair amount of influence and power in this country, but it has usually been exercised in cloakrooms and behind the scenes. Now, however, companies face a groundswell of pressure from a socially aware public (as well as their own employees) to right perceived wrongs.
A big change has occurred within certain elements of our society. The vast majority of millennials, Gen Xers, and baby boomers believe that companies they buy from should be investing and supporting causes they care about. And if not, boycotting a company or brand, they have learned, is far more effective than writing a letter to your congressperson.
National politics are at an impasse with neither party willing to compromise on issues as diverse (or deadly) as climate change, health, or even raising the debt ceiling. Clearly, part of this new corporate direction is meant to fill a power vacuum in Washington. Critics argue that affecting policy changes through unelected corporate leaders is troubling at best.
It is. But at the same time, with public confidence in our leaders and institutions at an all-time low, the consumer (voter) evidently feels more confident in corporations and the brands they identify with to get things done than they do in some politician they rarely if ever see.

Bill Schmick is the founding partner of Onota Partners, Inc., in the Berkshires. His forecasts and opinions are purely his own and do not necessarily represent the views of Onota Partners Inc. (OPI). None of his commentary is or should be considered investment advice. Direct your inquiries to Bill at 1-413-347-2401 or email him at bill@schmicksretiredinvestor.com.

Anyone seeking individualized investment advice should contact a qualified investment adviser. None of the information presented in this article is intended to be and should not be construed as an endorsement of OPI, Inc. or a solicitation to become a client of OPI. The reader should not assume that any strategies or specific investments discussed are employed, bought, sold, or held by OPI. Investments in securities are not insured, protected, or guaranteed and may result in loss of income and/or principal. This communication may include opinions and forward-looking statements, and we can give no assurance that such beliefs and expectations will prove to be correct. Investments in securities are not insured, protected, or guaranteed and may result in loss of income and/or principal. This communication may include opinions and forward-looking statements, and we can give no assurance that such beliefs and expectations will prove to be correct.

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