Big corporations at forefront of LGBT rights fight

Did you know that despite the lack of any federal laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination, three-quarters of Fortune 500 companies have policies in place to do just that?  The “S” part of corporate ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) standards and SRI (Socially Responsible Investing) has been coming alive in increasingly dynamic ways in recent years.

This year, as three southern states passed laws that actively codified anti-LGBT discrimination, some of the loudest—and most effective—voices raised against these initiatives came from large companies.  As summarized by The New Yorker:

Last month, executives at more than eighty companies—including Apple, Pfizer, Microsoft, and Marriott—signed a public letter to the governor of North Carolina urging him to repeal the state’s new law. Lionsgate Studio is moving production of a new sitcom out of the state, Deutsche Bank cancelled plans to create new jobs there, and PayPal has cancelled plans for a global operations center. In Mississippi, G.E., Pepsi, Dow, and others attacked the law there as “bad for our employees and bad for business.” Disney said that it would stop making movies in Georgia, which has become a major venue for film production, if the governor signed the bill. Something similar happened last year in Indiana, after the state passed a religious-freedom law allowing businesses to discriminate against L.G.B.T. customers and employees. At least a dozen business conventions relocated.

The article goes on to look at the ways this leadership by corporate interests upends both progressive and conservative orthodoxy.  Progressives often decry the influence of business on government decision-making, but this time it’s a welcome addition to grassroots voices against regressive new state laws.  Meanwhile, as the New Yorker’s James Surowiecki notes, “to many conservative business leaders, today’s social-conservative agenda looks anachronistic and is harmful to the bottom line; it makes it hard to hire and keep talented employees who won’t tolerate discrimination.”

Though we’ve long been champions of the idea that business can play a key role in reshaping society in positive ways, this vocal leadership on perhaps the leading social justice issue of the day is a welcome surprise.

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