“Corporations are people, my friend.”
— Mitt Romney
And there is occasionally evidence that some corporations, like some people, have a conscience. That there are some things they will not do, even for money.
Or, perhaps, even if making money is still the most important thing to them, some corporate leaders are smart enough to read the market and determine that falling behind public expectations of social progress is just plain bad for business.
We have seen it as corporate leaders have listened to the public, their customers, their employees and even their own hearts on such matters as marriage equality and other LGBT issues, declining to do business or establish new operations in states that were going out of their way to discriminate. More recently, some of the nation’s largest media companies have lowered the boom on high-profile employees found to have been guilty of sexual harassment or assault.
In just the last few days, some of the nation’s largest companies — including Delta Air Lines — have responded to the slaughter of innocents at the high school in Florida by severing long-standing business relationships with the National Rifle Association.
That organization, in the view of those executives, had gone over the edge in its unthinking opposition to reasonable limits on the possession and use of all manner of deadly firearms. CEOs were coming to the realizations that to have their own brand associated with the NRA, even in such small ways as offering discounts to NRA members, was both unpleasant and damaging to the bottom line.
And Wednesday, leaders of the Dick’s Sporting Goods chain of stores announced a couple of big changes in the way they do business. From now on, no AR-15 or other assault-style weapons will be offered for sale in their stores. No high capacity magazines. No gun sales at all to anyone under 21 years old.
Apparently, it stung for Dick’s leadership to find out that the young man accused in the Parkland shooting had recently bought a gun — not that gun, but, still — at one of their stores.
“When we saw what the kids were going through and the grief of the parents and the kids who were killed in Parkland, we felt we needed to do something,” Chairman and CEO Edward Stack said.
And, not to be outdone in the social responsibility category, Walmart announced later in the day that it would also no longer sell guns or ammo to people under 21. (Semi-automatic weapons had left the retail giant’s stores in 2015.)
Both stores remain in the sporting goods business, which means they are still in the hunting business. But it makes sense that they want to be, and be seen as, supportive of responsible gun ownership, limiting sales to adults, and their product lines to weapons suitable for a field, not a combat zone.
There is reason to hope that there will be more and more corporate decisions guided by a sense of social responsibility. That those with a fiduciary responsibility to stockholders will see that meeting that duty is enhanced, not diminished, by upholding their social responsibilities.
Competition for customers with disposable income and for employees with necessary skills is fierce. Members of the rising millennial generation are particularly aware of their economic power and not reluctant to use it.
The marketplace of ideas and the marketplace are not separate realms, but one big world where human values matter. At least some of the time.