Activism Is Alive and Growing, But…


Activism Is Alive and Growing, But…

Hamed Wardak, Entrepreneur

Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg isn’t the only person making waves about climate change these days. More recently, nearly 400 employees at Amazon disregarded company policy and voiced their displeasure about their employer’s mandate intended to stifle public discourse by its employees on the topic.

What made the Amazon employees’ position more pronounced is that Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and CEO, also owns the Washington Post. And ironically, Amazon itself has publicly announced plans to not only reduce emissions but meet the Paris climate agreement goals ten years ahead of schedule. Last September, hundreds of Google employees walked out of their jobs in a similar protest over climate change. Twenty thousand workers did the same a year earlier to protest the way Google handled claims of sexual harassment. Some were terminated and alleged that it was in retribution, a claim Google has denied. The company said the actions were taken over policy violations.

To some observers, employee activism at Amazon is a game-changer. Margaret O’Mara, author of “The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America,” said this type of collective action is something she’s never witnessed before. 

The Other Side of the Coin

So, while Amazon appears to be struggling with an apparent contradiction in values between corporate and employees, giants in other fields have recently announced major areas of focus. In its annual letter to its boards, Cyrus Taraporevala, the CEO of State Street Global Advisors, strongly suggested that shareholder value “is increasingly driven by challenges such as climate change, labor practices, and consumer product safety.”

Taraporevala suggested that boards adopted an environmental, social and governance (ESG) framework. It’s not only essential to an organization’s long-term financial performance but also good business, according to the leader of the $3 trillion plus arm of State Bank.

In spite of the fact the State Street Global Advisor first asked boards to consider sustainability back in 2017, less than a quarter of the 6,000 plus firms recently evaluated by State Street Global Advisors had yet to identify ESG values in their strategies.

Similarly, the world’s largest asset manager cited climate change as a priority in its investments. BlackRock was quickly joined by other financial giants, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase.

All of these recent revelations and recommendations support other major organizations and events. The BIS, an international financial institution owned by central banks, recently conducted a study and warned that climate change could be so disruptive as to be a major factor in the next financial crisis.

The Bottom Line

Brands and leaders need to be alert and responsive to the changes in employee activism and other industry reports, particularly as it relates to climate change. The voices and evidence are getting increasingly louder and companies that haven’t yet taken a position on the issue should be quick to not only embrace the ideas and recommendations, but also act promptly on and communicate about them clearly and often to their respective audiences.