Politics, business and early adopters

judge1It’s been an interesting week in politics, and a strange one for business.

The Stop Funding Hate movement, asking advertisers to divest in titles such as the Sun and the Mail has seen huge traction. But not much in the way of results. A single tweet from Lego saying that they had no promotions planned with the Mail lead to widespread claims of victory and many people claiming they’d now be buying everyone Lego for Christmas. But there’s no evidence that Lego has changed its stance in the face of public pressure. John Lewis has refused to do so, and even the Co-op has merely said it’s considering its options.

In the US, an old statement from New Balance supporting Trump’s ‘America first’ manufacturing policies lead to many people burning or throwing away their (expensive) New Balance shoes. The company soon clarified their position – they manufacture largely in the US and UK rather than in far East sweatshops, so they like the policy. But they don’t endorse the man. Actually, then, a defence of an all-too rare ethical position.

Politics is the new entertainment, and since the beginning of the referendum campaign we can talk about nothing else. Driven by a divisive media and hyperbolic news sites, we’re more engaged, and extreme, than ever.

And, it seems, we want our businesses to follow suit. But will they?

It’s much more common for businesses in the US to take overtly political stances on issues. For instance, AirBnB recently enforced a worldwide non-discrimination policy that effectively enshrines absolute equality across ethnicity, gender and sexuality. Ben & Jerrys have long made their stance on issues such as gay marriage clear – often by releasing new flavours of ice cream. But these decisions seem to come from enlightened boardrooms rather than engaged customers and consumers.

The question is, will UK businesses follow suit? How can businesses that claim an ethical, values-led or purposeful stance, make it real in a climate that demands more than recycled packaging or jute carrier bags?

Consumers are the early adopters here. We’ve all taken sides now. Will our most familiar high street names be forced to do the same?