On January 7, 2021, Logos President and author of “Words on Fire: The Power of Incendiary Language and How to Confront It,” Helio Fred Garcia was quoted in an article in Christian Science Monitor on his personal response to the storming of the U.S. Capitol by insurrectionists on January 6. In the article, people from across the country react to the insurrectionists attack and reflect on what this means.
Below is an excerpt from this article:
Take the American story of Helio Fred Garcia. His family emigrated from Brazil in the 1960s. As a New York City debate champion in the 1970s he won a coveted spot as a congressional page during the Watergate summer of 1974.
He had come from a country with a military dictatorship, and when President Richard Nixon resigned, he thought there might be tanks in the streets.
“And it didn’t happen,” he says.
Six years ago, he attended a reunion of former pages at the U.S. Capitol. He felt a bit overwhelmed.
“When my wife and I were able to walk onto the House floor, tears ran down my cheeks – I’m tearing up a little right now,” says Mr. Garcia, now president of the crisis management firm Logos Consulting Group, and author of “Words on Fire: The Power of Incendiary Language and How to Confront It.”
So, unsurprisingly, after a mob of Trump supporters stormed the building on Wednesday his emotions ran especially deep.
“I was heartbroken when I saw my sacred chamber being desecrated and attacked . . . For us, it really is a sacred place. It is a temple of democracy,” he says.
This guest column by Helio Fred Garcia was released on CommPro.biz on November 2, 2020.
Here’s where the United States stands on the eve of the election: We have more than 9 million confirmed COVID-19 infections. We’re at nearly 100 thousand new cases daily; more than a thousand daily fatalities. We’re well on our way to be at a quarter million fatalities in a matter of weeks; half a million by the inauguration.
I have previously called the nation’s COVID-19 response the single-worst handled crisis, and the single largest leadership failure, in the nation’s history. Over the weekend, Dr. Anthony Fauci told The Washington Post that the nation needs to make an “abrupt change” and that we’re “in for a whole lot of hurt.”
If Donald Trump is re-elected, we can expect the situation to continue to get exponentially worse. He continues to deny the severity of the virus.
The White House science office announced this week that among Trump’s accomplishments are “ending the pandemic.” Stanford University researchers reported this week that Trump’s “superspreader” rallies in the summer through September 22 resulted in at least 30,000 infections and 700 fatalities. And that is before his own diagnosis, and his ramping up the frequency of the rallies through election day.
If Joe Biden is elected, there will still be 70 days before he takes office, and things can get much worse in that time.
We don’t have the luxury of waiting. A President-Elect Biden will need to use all the moral and political authority he can wield to get politicians and citizens to fundamentally change the way the nation is responding to the pandemic. And to recognize that all the other crises, from economic to mental health, derive from the failure to respond effectively to COVID-19.
Foundational Principle of Crisis Response: Take Risk Seriously
A foundational principle of crisis response is to understand the scope and specifically the risks that a crisis represents, and then to do all that is necessary to mitigate those risks. The longer it takes to do that, the worse the crisis will get.
Trump never took the risks seriously, at least in public. As early as February and for months after, he told Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward what he knew about the virus:
- It is spread in the air.
- You catch it by breathing it.
- Young people can get it.
- It is far deadlier than the flu.
- It’s easily transmissible.
- If you’re the wrong person and it gets you, your life is pretty much over. It rips you apart.
- It moves rapidly and viciously.
- It is a plague.
But he was telling the nation the opposite.
The Washington Post has documented the scope and frequency of Trump’s lies while president: In his first 827 days in office, he told 10,000 lies or false statements, he told 10,000 more in the next 444 days. By July 2020, he was averaging 23 lies or false statements per day. By mid-October, it was more than 50 every day.
Last month Cornell University’s Alliance for Science published the first comprehensive study of COVID-19 misinformation in the media, and concluded that President Trump is likely the largest driver of the such misinformation.
And that misinformation had consequences. An analysis in mid-October by Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness concluded that between 130,000 to 210,000 American fatalities would have been avoided if the nation had consistently applied policies equivalent to what other developed democracies had done. (Note that South Korea and the United States had their first cases on the same day. Our death rate is 78 times theirs.)
Columbia University, National Center for Disaster Preparedness
Advice from a Crisis Manager
I don’t have Joe Biden’s ear. But if I did here’s what I’d tell him and his team:
1. Create a true whole of government response.
We have never had a whole of government response, unlike most of our peer countries. Even at the federal level, we’ve had a fragments of government response. Different parts of the federal government had conflicting policies; political appointees micromanaged what had previously been independent agencies; there was inconsistency over time. And the states have been left to figure it out on their own.
Where Biden and his team don’t have authority (before inauguration, with states, cities, and counties), use persuasion and call for clear, consistent, and consistently-implemented policies and practices to stop the spread, treat the people, and treat the consequences of the poor response.
2. Immediately call for full implementation of the Defense Production Act.
Call for surging the manufacturing of ventilators, medical supply, testing equipment, personal protective equipment, and sanitization technologies.
Although President Trump has invoked the act in limited ways – to require meat processing employees to work in violation of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, and for limited amounts of masks and testing equipment, he has not surged supply.
In July, the soon-to-retire head of the Defense Production Act program at the Federal Emergency Management Agency lamented that there was no national strategy: “Why isn’t this administration using the act to prevent shortages?”
A former legal advisor to the National Security Council concluded that, “What the federal government — the president or secretaries possessing delegated authority — have not done yet is use the D.P.A. to create a permanent, sustainable, redundant, domestic supply chain for all things pandemic.”
3. Call on all governors, mayors, and other executive branch leaders to implement a national masking, social distancing, and contact tracing policy.
Masks save lives and slow the spread of the virus. Of the 105 counties in Kansas, only 21 have mask mandates. A study last month by the University of Kansas found that counties with mask mandates saw a plateau of new cases at 20 per 100,000 people. But counties without mask mandates saw a serious spike in new cases to 40 cases per 100,000 people.
Similarly, a Vanderbilt University study last week concluded that hospitals with fewer than 25 percent of patients from counties with mask mandates had a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations; hospitals with more than 75 percent of patients from counties with mask mandates saw essentially no change in COVID-19 hospitalizations from July to late October.
Finally, a University of Washington Study published in Nature Medicine says that up to half a million Americans could die of the virus in the next four months, but that up to 130,000 of them could be saved if 95 percent of Americans wear masks consistently in public.
4. Call on Congress to provide financial relief to states, businesses, families, and healthcare institutions.
The economic crisis is a direct result of mishandling the public health crisis. Now it isn’t just families and small businesses at risk, but also states, which are required to balance their budgets. States may need to cut essential services at precisely the moment when they will be most needed to keep people safe. And health care institutions are stretched thin and need assistance.
The next round of stimulus relief has been stalled because of election-year dynamics. But a clear Biden win and changes in the House and Senate could provide an opportunity to accelerate support.
5. Offer free testing
Knowledge is power. The availability of testing is still spotty and its reliability not clear. Biden should call for an army of testers, contact tracers, and managers to coordinate universal access to testing, an infrastructure to process tests quickly and reliably, and a further infrastructure to provide timely notice, notification, and referral to medical care when needed.
6. Respect science.
Restore true independence to CDC, FDA, HHS, and other public health operations of the US government. Take the advice of the science/public health experts to guide policy choices.
Public health should not be political. But the COVID-19 response has been highly-politicized. In a post-election environment, there is an opportunity to reset expectations and to get and follow the best advice of the scientists and public health experts.
It is the nature of science that it is self-correcting. When scientists are grappling with new challenges, they adapt understanding to what the evidence and data show. That should not lessen support for science, but actually increase it. Science isn’t dogma.
One of the first challenges post-election is whether, when, and how to go to a national shelter-in-place order similar to what some states did in the Spring. Britain just established a month-long lockdown. The decision on whether, when, how, and for how long to do something here should be based on the science and on the actual risks we face, not on political calculation.
7. Assure Americans’ access to healthcare.
One week after the election the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case in which the U.S. government and state attorneys general will ask the court to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Despite Trump’s promises for months that a plan for better healthcare will be revealed “in two weeks,” there is no evidence of such a plan. Biden and his team must act quickly to create an alternative if the Court should nullify the healthcare that so many Americans rely upon.
In the meantime, the federal government should subsidize COVID-19 prevention, treatment, and recovery for the uninsured or underinsured.
These are not political recommendations: they’re crisis management recommendations based on the severity of the risks. The tragedy is that taking the risks seriously when Trump first knew about them could have prevented all of this suffering.
Leadership courage matters.
A version of this post appeared in CommPro.biz.
Last week Cornell University’s Alliance for Science published the first comprehensive study of coronavirus misinformation in the media, and concluded that President Trump is likely the largest driver of the such misinformation.
Lost in the News Cycle
In any other administration this would have led the news for at least a week.
But the report came five days after President Donald J. Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court. It came four days after publication of a massive New York Times investigation that revealed that President Trump paid no federal income taxes for years. It came just two days after the debate debacle in which the President refused to condemn white supremacy and seemed to endorse the Proud Boys. And it came just hours before the news that the President and First Lady had tested positive for COVID-19.
I wish the President and the First Lady a speedy and complete recovery.
But it is important that this news not be lost, and that the President be held accountable for the consequences of his words, actions, and inaction.
Language, Inaction, and Consequences
I am a professor of ethics, leadership, and communication at Columbia University and New York University. This summer my book about Trump’s language and how it inspires violence was published. I finished writing Words on Fire: The Power of Incendiary Language and How to Confront It in February. But since then the effect of Trump’s language has been even more dangerous.
In the book, I document how charismatic leaders use language in ways that set a powerful context that determines what makes sense to their followers. Such leaders can make their followers believe absurdities, which then can make atrocities possible. If COVID-19 is a hoax, if it will magically disappear, if it affects only the elderly with heart problems, then it makes sense for people to gather in large crowds without social distancing or masks.
There’s just one problem. None of that is true. But Trump said all those things. And his followers believed him. And the President and his political allies refused to implement policies to protect their citizens.
What The President Knew, and When The President Knew It
As I write this, 210,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 and the President is being treated for it at Walter Reed Military Medical Center.
But it didn’t have to happen. Three weeks ago Dr. Irwin Redlener, head of Columbia University’s Pandemic Resource and Response Initiative, estimated that if the nation had gone to national masking and lock-down one week earlier in March, and had maintained a constant masking and social distancing policy, 150,000 of fatalities could have been avoided.
Trump knew about the severity of the virus in February and March.
In taped discussions Trump told Washington Post Associate Editor Bob Woodward what he knew about how dangerous COVID-19 is:
- It is spread in the air
- You catch it by breathing it
- Young people can get it
- It is far deadlier than the flu
- It’s easily transmissible
- If you’re the wrong person and it gets you, your life is pretty much over. It rips you apart
- It moves rapidly and viciously.
- It is a plague
But he was telling the nation the opposite.
“Infodemic” of COVID-19
President Trump likes to label anything he doesn’t agree with Fake News. But it turns out that he’s the largest disseminator of misinformation about Coronavirus.
Cornell University’s Alliance for Science analyzed 38 million pieces of content published in English worldwide between January 1 and May 26, 2020. It identified 1.1 million news articles that “disseminated, amplified or reported on misinformation related to the pandemic.”
On October 1, 2020 the Alliance published its report. It notes,
“These findings are of significant concern because if people are misled by unscientific and unsubstantiated claims about the disease, they may attempt harmful cures or be less likely to observe official guidance and thus risk spreading the virus.”
“One major finding is that media mentions of President Trump within the context of different misinformation topics made up 37% of the overall ‘misinformation conversation,’ much more than any other single topic.
The study concludes that Donald Trump was likely the largest driver of the COVID-19 misinformation ‘infodemic.’
In contrast only 16% of media mentions of misinformation were explicitly ‘fact-checking’ in nature, suggesting that a substantial quantity of misinformation reaches media consumers without being challenged or accompanied by factually accurate information.”
But Trump may be responsible for more than the 37% of the news stories that name him. The report says that
” a substantial proportion of other topics was also driven by the president’s comments [but did not explicitly name him], so some overlap can be expected.
The most prevalent misinformation was about miracle cures. More than 295,000 stories mentioned some version of a miracle cure. (Note that the study looked only at stories that were published before the end of May, long before the president’s statements about a vaccine being ready by the end of October.)
The report notes that Trump prompted a surge of miracle cure stories when he spoke of using disinfectants internally and advocated taking hydroxychloroquine.
The second most prevalent topic, mentioned in nearly 50,000 stories, was that COVID had something to do with the “deep state.” The report notes,
“Mentions of conspiracies linked to alleged secret “new world orders” or ‘deep state’ government bodies existed throughout the time period and were referenced in passing in conversations that mentioned or listed widespread conspiracies. Indeed, President Trump joked about the US State Department being a ‘Deep State’ Department during a White House COVID press conference in March.”
The third most prevalent misinformation was about COVID-19 being a Democratic hoax, mentioned in more than 40,000 stories.
Human Consequences of Misinformation
The report closes with a warning: Misinformation has consequences:
“It is especially notable that while misinformation and conspiracy theories promulgated by ostensibly grassroots sources… do appear in our analysis in several of the topics, they contributed far less to the overall volume of misinformation than more powerful actors, in particular the US President.
In previous pandemics, such as the HIV/AIDS outbreak, misinformation and its effect on policy was estimated to have led to an additional 300,000 deaths in South Africa alone.
If similar or worse outcomes are to be avoided in the present COVID-19 pandemic, greater efforts will need to be made to combat the “infodemic” that is already substantially polluting the wider media discourse.”
In my book, I help engaged citizens, civic leaders, and public officials recognize dangerous language and then confront those who use it. I urge such citizens and leaders to hold those who use such language responsible for the consequences.
I wish President Trump a full and fast recovery. He and those closest to him have now been affected by their own denial of science. I hope that now he can start to model appropriate safe behavior.
But even as Trump is being treated in the hospital his campaign says it will stay the course, including an in-person rally for Vice President Mike Pence the day after the vice-presidential debate in several days. This is both irresponsible and dangerous.
I urge civic leaders, engaged citizens, and public officials, regardless of party, to stop having super-spreader events such as in-person rallies. And finally to begin modeling responsible behavior: Wear a mask, maintain social distancing. Masking and distancing are not political acts; they are a civic responsibility.
The Trump administration’s January 27th executive order banning refugees and certain legal immigrants from entering the United States galvanized businesses into action. Companies immediately affected by the ban, like airlines, scrambled to manage the impact on their customers. U.S.-based companies with global operations and diverse workforces, like Coca-Cola, Ford, Goldman Sachs, Google and Nike made forceful public statements opposing the ban. Technology and media companies expressed concern for their employees and operations. Starbucks announced plans to hire 10,000 refugees. Companies like Amazon and Microsoft joined the State of Washington’s successful lawsuit challenging the legality of the immigration ban. Apple and more than 125 other companies signed a brief defending the nationwide restraining order. Even companies that have not addressed the impact of the ban publicly are managing its fallout. From assisting affected employees to fielding inquiries from concerned employees and others, few large enterprises could avoid addressing the federal government’s sudden attempt to close U.S. borders to certain groups of people, targeting refugees and Muslims.
The immigration ban is the first of many ethical dilemmas companies will confront under this administration.
The Trump administration brings unprecedented levels of uncertainty for businesses. The immigration ban is the first of many ethical dilemmas companies will confront under this administration. Trump’s controversial proposals include detaining and deporting all undocumented residents of the United States, including children; and creating a Muslim registry. Corporate boards, CEOs and their advisors are asking themselves how the most extreme Trump proposals would affect their company’s people, customers and communities, and how their company should respond. Companies prefer not to address these questions on the fly.
Well-managed companies anticipate risks to their business and plan accordingly. It is no surpsrise that some of the global brands moving quickly to defend the rights of their employees, customers and communities against harmful executive action on immigration in the United States have been working for years to integrate human rights considerations into their global operations. Nike, Starbucks, Coca-Cola, Google, Ford and Microsoft have all faced human rights challenges in the past – from child labor to complicity with abusive security forces to government censorship – and have drawn management lessons from their mistakes. Companies reacting to the immigration ban are pursuing many strategies used by companies seeking to meet their human rights responsibilities, but without articulating any conceptual framework for their actions.
The business and human rights movement provides a roadmap for managing business risks under Trump. Executives and managers looking for a conceptual framework to organize their responses to Trump’s policies, and road-tested tools to manage them, can apply the corporate responsibility to respect human rights to their United States operations.
The Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights
The business and human rights movement provides a roadmap for managing business risks under Trump.
“Business and human rights” is a management discipline that has emerged over the past three decades. An international benchmark, the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (2011) (PDF), reflects the working consensus among business, governments and civil society on what companies can do to meet their corporate responsibility to respect human rights. Specifically, companies must:
- Avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities, and address such impacts when they occur; and
- Seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products or services by their business relationships, even if they have not contributed to those impacts.
To meet this standard, companies have adopted human rights policies, are conducting due diligence to understand the human rights impacts of their operations and business relationships, and finding ways to prevent, mitigate and remedy adverse human rights impacts.
Most attention has focused on the human rights impacts of multinationals outside their home countries, typically in places where corporate activity is connected to human rights violations – like child labor, human trafficking and torture – and where legal accountability for perpetrators and remedies for victims are lacking. The most familiar examples are sweatshops in global apparel supply chains and complicity with abusive security forces by oil and mining companies, but advocates have shined a spotlight on the human rights impacts of companies in sectors ranging from agriculture and consumer products to healthcare and technology.
Business and Human Rights under Trump
The business and human rights landscape in the United States shifted dramatically with the election of Donald Trump.
The business and human rights landscape in the United States shifted dramatically with the election of Donald Trump.
The prospect of stronger U.S. government action to protect individuals from corporate misconduct has vanished. One of the final initiatives of the Obama administration in December 2016 was the release of a U.S. National Action Plan on Responsible Business Conduct describing the federal policies and governmental expectations for the conduct of U.S corporations operating abroad, including their responsibility to respect human rights consistent with the UN Guiding Principles. Corporate accountability advocates are rightly concerned that the Trump administration will fail to consistently implement the laws and policies contained in the National Action Plan. The ideology and policy prescriptions of Trump’s advisors and cabinet, abetted by Republicans in Congress, means the likely weakening of protections for consumers, workers, and communities against corporate abuses under federal U.S. law, especially concerning the activities of U.S. companies abroad. Regulations of corporate conduct are more likely to be stripped than strengthened. (One exception may be the issue of tax avoidance, for which companies could face greater scrutiny if Trump’s rhetoric becomes policy.) The modest federal human rights reporting requirements enacted during the past decade, like the conflict mineral provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act, are already targeted for elimination. The Trump regime may even stop prosecuting companies for bribing foreign officials under the Foreign Corrupt Practice Act. Advocates will have to rely on other tools to promote corporate responsibility for human rights impacts.
Absent government enforcement, voluntary corporate action has become the backstop for meeting the corporate responsibility to respect human rights in the United States. The policy shift in Washington may be good news for business executives who subscribe to a “profits at all costs” business model. It is deeply troubling, however, for the business leaders, managers and employees who know that business success in the long run (beyond the next earnings cycle) is inextricably tied to meeting the expectations of customers, investors and employees that companies demonstrate corporate responsibility, their so-called “license to operate.” Leading companies, especially those companies that have integrated compliance and human rights standards into the way they do business, are unlikely to make bribery or human rights violations part of their business plans. Unethical executives will be less likely to get caught, but responsible companies will continue to comply with the spirit of the UN Guiding Principles. U.S. federal regulators may be instructed to look the other way when companies do harm, but the corporate responsibility spotlight now shines brighter than ever on business operations in the United States.
In a complete role reversal, business leaders may need to mobilize to hold the U.S. government accountable for protecting human rights and obeying the Constitution. U.S. companies face the real prospect of human rights violations connected to their operations much closer to home. Multinationals operating in the United States will be asked to demonstrate that they are respecting human rights whenever U.S. government policies fall short of international standards, and significantly, if government actions violate the United States Constitution. Businesses will also face pressure, as they are right now regarding the immigration ban, to deploy corporate resources as a check on the U.S. government.
Rights under Threat
The corporate responsibility spotlight now shines brighter than ever on business operations in the United States.
Internationally recognized human rights threatened by proposed actions of the Trump administration include the rights to non-discrimination; to recognition and equality before the law; to protection from arbitrary arrest and from interference with privacy; to personal security; to freedom of opinion and expression; to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; to political participation; and to freedom of association. These rights, defined under international law in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights and labor treaties, are the focus of corporate efforts to manage their human rights impacts outside the United States. Other rights that have received less attention by most companies may now come into play, such as prohibitions of “propaganda for war” and “advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence” (ICCPR, Article 20), and the right of “ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities” to “enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religions, or to use their own language.” (ICCPR, Article 27). The Trump campaign and administration have demonstrated a willingness to engage in such tactics in the United States, and to target minorities.
The Corporate Responsibility to Respect the U.S. Constitution
Companies operating in the United States should consider the U.S. Constitution together with the international human rights instruments to define their potential human rights impacts. Most internationally recognized human rights are protected in some form under United States law at the federal, state and/or local level. The United States Constitution’s Bill of Rights, for example, enumerates rights including the free exercise of religion (First Amendment): the freedoms of speech, of the press, and of assembly (First Amendment); freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures (Fourth Amendment); the right to vote (Fifteenth, Nineteenth, Twenty-Fourth, Twenty-Sixth Amendments); and the rights to citizenship, due process and equal protection of the law (Fourteenth Amendment).
Companies can add “US Constitutional rights” to human rights principles as another lens through which they manage the impacts of their operations in the United States.
Companies can add “US Constitutional rights” to human rights principles as another lens through which they manage the impacts of their operations in the United States. If federal, state or local authorities in the United States engage in systematic discrimination; target individuals or groups for harassment based on national origin or religion; curtail press freedoms; seek to arrest undocumented individuals; separate children from their families; or arbitrarily restrict the right to vote; their actions or omissions are likely to be both unconstitutional and violate international human rights.
Human Rights Impact Management
In the Trump era, companies must exercise due diligence to identify, prevent and mitigate the domestic human rights impacts of their operations and business relationships in the United States.
Companies can manage the risks of contributing or being connected to government actions that violate human and Constitutional rights using the same concepts and tools that apply a human rights lens to their non-U.S. operations. In the Trump era, companies must exercise due diligence to identify, prevent and mitigate the domestic human rights impacts of their operations and business relationships in the United States.
If U.S. government action violates rights, companies must take steps not to cause or contribute to any of the human rights impacts, and must be prepared to respond appropriately when any of these scenarios touch their people, products, or partners.
Companies should be prepared to do five things to manage their human rights impacts and meet their responsibilities to respect rights under Trump:
1. Protect employees.
When government actions threaten or harm employees, companies must act to support and protect them. The priority for companies in the wake of the immigration ban has been to identify affected employees, ensure their safety, and provide assistance, such as travel, legal and financial support. Providing employees with clear, accurate information about the immigration ban and its impact, so that individuals can take action to protect themselves and their families, is a first step companies can take to meet their responsibility to employees. Employees are the stakeholder group companies can help most directly, but businesses must also consider how to support and protect others connected to their particular business, such as customers, business partners and the communities where they operate.
2. Avoid complicity.
Companies must ensure that they are not contributing to rights violations in any way. A practical first step for businesses is to apply international standards for effective human rights due diligence, such as human rights impact assessments, to their corporate operations and business relationships in the United States. Airlines that refuse to allow passage to refugees in the wake of the immigration ban, for example, are at risk of complicity with violations of the right to seek asylum under international law. Particularly important will be corporate relationships with the U.S. government, its agencies and the Trump administration. CEOs serving as advisors to the Trump administration are already attracting extra scrutiny from customers and rights advocates. If the Trump administration were to attempt to detain all undocumented residents of the United Sates or to create a national registry based on religious belief, companies should not provide information nor supply products or services that would foreseeably contribute to rights violations.
Once a company understands how its operations, products or relationships are connected to potential or actual rights violations in the United States, the business must act to cease or prevent its own violation or contribution, and use its leverage to prevent and mitigate violations by others. Exercising leverage may take the form of challenging rights violations or opposing harmful policies. Companies connected to human rights violations committed by government security forces outside the United States have intervened with government authorities seeking to prevent the violations, promoted standard-setting and training initiatives to prevent future violations, and have ended business relationships to ensure they are not connected to violations. U.S. companies are beginning to use their leverage, individually and collectively, to prevent and mitigate the impact of the immigration ban. One can imagine scenarios in which companies refuse to provide goods or services to U.S. government agencies violating rights, or in the case of non-U.S. companies, pull out of the U.S. market altogether if the violations are sufficiently severe.
3. Mitigate harmful impacts.
When companies are unable to stop harmful policies and actions by others, they can seek to mitigate the negative impact on their employees, customers, business partners and communities. Companies have sought to comply with the spirit of international human rights standards outside the United States by protecting rights “within the factory walls.” Brands sourcing from factories in China, for example, where independent trade unions are banned, have promoted the creation of factory worker councils to bring concerns over working conditions to management. Businesses must consider ways to ensure that their U.S. workplaces provide safe spaces where individual rights are protected. Adopting workplace policies reinforcing a commitment to non-discrimination and prohibiting the harassment of any individual based on national origin or immigration status is one concrete way to meet the corporate responsibility to respect rights.
4. Challenge rights violations.
Companies must obey the laws wherever they operate, yet the corporate responsibility to respect human rights goes beyond legal compliance. What is lawful may still violate an individual’s rights. Challenges arise for companies when local law or its enforcement conflicts with international standards. Companies must be prepared to challenge government actions that are unconstitutional or violate human rights.
In countries where laws explicitly contradict international human rights standards, companies have found ways to minimize their connection to human rights violations by others. In China, Brazil and elsewhere, for example, foreign technology firms have insisted upon valid judicial orders before acquiescing to demands from government officials to turn over personally identifiable user information for questionable purposes. Companies may face similar situations in the United States if asked by law enforcement authorities to turn over personal information related to their employees’ or customers’ national origin, immigration status or religious beliefs. Businesses can exhaust all available legal processes, as Apple successfully refused to collaborate with the FBI to unlock encrypted iPhones, and challenge the legality of government actions in court, as some companies are now doing in opposition to the immigration ban. Companies can also communicate publicly about government actions that violate rights, using transparency to highlight actual and potential rights violations. Since 2009, for example, Google has published a “Transparency Report” with data on government requests to hand over user data, and how the company responds. Companies will need to be more transparent about what the U.S. government under Trump asks them to do, and the likely consequences of compliance.
5. Oppose harmful policies.
Companies in diverse sectors are speaking out against the immigration ban. In response to government actions targeting Muslims, immigrants and refugees, companies are directing corporate resources toward organizations defending these groups and their rights. Multinational companies have learned that the corporate responsibility to respect human rights often requires advocating for governments to fulfill their own human rights obligations. Companies have criticized rights violations by governments around the world and opposed harmful government policies privately, publicly and in partnership with others through business associations, coalitions and advocacy networks. More businesses will need to become public rights advocates in the United States.
Corporate advocacy is most effective when it reinforces company values. U.S. companies in recent years have publicly opposed state laws in the United States that would permit discrimination based on sexual preference. Since the election, U.S. companies have spoken out to let their stakeholders know where they stand on the most extreme Trump proposals.
When engaging in public advocacy on rights issues in the United States, companies will need to overcome any cultural reluctance to speak out publicly. This will seem even riskier because Trump has embraced the “naming and shaming” of individual companies to advance his political agenda. Companies at the center of the business and human rights movement, however, understand that customers, employees and investors often view corporate silence in the face of rights violations as tacit complicity.
Human rights impact management accounts for all of these strategies.
The discipline that accounts for all of these strategies is human rights impact management, an approach that more and more business leaders may now embrace to effectively manage the Trump administration. What is your company doing to meet its corporate responsibility to respect rights in the United States?
- Women and executive presence: A new study published in Marie Clare this month and conducted by the Center for Talent Innovation looked at the factors that feed into perceptions of executive presence for women. There are a number of insights that may be helpful for women looking to advance their careers, and the survey found that there are “three areas that govern the perception of “leadership material”:
- Gravitas, or the ability to project confidence, poise under pressure, and decisiveness
- Communication, which comprises excellent speaking skills, assertiveness, and the ability to read an audience or situation
- Appearance—looking polished and pulled together”
- Media questions and “the pivot”: This NPR article on the science of “the pivot” in a political debate context provides good analysis on what does and doesn’t work in transitioning from any question to your message in other types of media formats and for other types of interview subjects.
- Election 2012: There were many post-election wrap-ups on various communication subjects tied to the 2012 Presidential election, but a few in particular worth noting here. At the MediaShift Idea Lab blog, “Our Picks for the Most Innovative Election Coverage“; at Social@Ogilvy’s blog, “Election 2012: Why Twitter, The Visual Web and Big Data Are the Winners“; and the newest most popular tweet in history.
- Decline of newspapers and affect on civic participation: The Christian Science Monitor has a thoughtful piece that’s worth reading, “Is the death of newspapers the end of good citizenship?.” From the article: “When daily newspapers die, communities become less connected and collaborative, new studies suggest. Economists and media researchers are seeing a drop-off in civic participation – the same kind of collective vigor readers showed in fighting for The Times-Picayune – after the presses stop rolling.”
Finally, we were lucky and thankful here at Logos to have escaped injury and major damage to our homes and office from Sandy, only suffering the relatively minor issues of loss of power, heat and/or water, trees down and transportation interruptions on various individual levels. Much of the areas of New York and New Jersey hardest hit are still struggling to recover, and help is still needed to assist the thousands of people for whom the effects of the storm will be felt for some time.
As we here in the NYC area wait for Hurricane Sandy to make landfall, a few items of note from the last two weeks (in case you need some extra reading material wherever you are). Stay safe, all.
- Young adults’ reading habits: If the popular consensus seems to be that younger people don’t read books anymore, a recent Pew study found, “More than eight in ten Americans between the ages of 16 and 29 read a book in the past year, and six in ten used their local public library.”
- Anonymity, free speech and the Internet: A Gawker article about a notorious anonymous user on Reddit, “Unmasking Reddit’s Violentacrez, The Biggest Troll on the Web,” set off a wave of discussions about the dynamics and ethics of anonymity and free speech online. Nieman Journalism Lab has a good summary of the discussions that ensued.
- Political misperceptions: We read an interesting academic paper, “When Corrections Fail: The persistence of political misperceptions,” which looked at the persistence of falsely held political beliefs despite corrections to the contrary. This study “conducted four experiments in which subjects read mock news articles that included either a misleading claim from a politician, or a misleading claim and a correction. Results indicate that corrections frequently fail to reduce misperceptions among the targeted ideological group. We also document several instances of a “backfire effect” in which corrections actually increase misperceptions among the group in question.”
- The New York Times goes global: The Times announced plans for a Brazilian website edition to launch next year, and other elements of its global expansion plan are already in the works, including the launch of its Chinese edition this past June.
- And Newsweek goes digital: The venerable news magazine said that as of January 2013, the magazine will be going entirely digital, after “80 years in print.”
- Politics, politics, politics: The first presidential debate last week provided lots of good reading fodder:
- Presidential body language – The New York Times broke down the meaning behind each candidates’ gestures. “After the first televised presidential debate, held between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon 52 years ago, campaigns have been acutely aware that voters may judge candidates in such encounters as much by their appearance and gestures as by their words.”
- Fact-checking the debate – There were many fact-checking versions done around the debate, including this one from PolitiFact.
- PBS and Big Bird – Even if you didn’t watch the debate, you couldn’t escape the discussion around the mention of PBS and Big Bird. PBS’ official response statement is a useful example of organizational communication in a heated national context.
- Record-setting night for Twitter – With more than 10 million tweets, the debate last week was “the most tweeted-about event in U.S. politics.”
- Errant KitchenAid tweet – By now we’ve seen a number of examples of errant tweets being sent from corporate accounts, but the latest was KitchenAid’s errant tweet during last week’s debate.
- Campaigns and social media – This year’s presidential campaigns are going beyond the groundwork set in 2008 and trying a wide variety of social media strategies and tactics to reach and engage voters (particularly younger ones).
- Civility and politics in America: Not specifically tied to the debate, but Weber Shandwick released its third annual survey, “Civility in America.” Among other things, the survey found that “83% [of people surveyed] say a candidate’s tone or level of civility will be an important factor in the 2012 presidential election,” and “63% believe we have a major civility problem in America.”
- FTC Green Guides: The FTC issued the final version of its “Green Guides,” which aims to bring more accountability and clarity to environmental claims in advertising. The FTC’s summary is a helpful synopsis.
- Facebook hits one billion: Facebook passed the one billion user mark last week and released its first television ad.
- Politics & social media: The Pew Internet and American Life Project released a new report last week, “Politics on Social Networking Sites.” The survey noted, “The vast majority of SNS users (84%) say they have posted little or nothing related to politics in their recent status updates, comments, and links.” And a fairly small number of people said their political views had changed as a result of political activity on social networking sites. Only “16% of SNS users say they have changed their views about a political issue after discussing it or reading posts about it on the sites.”
- Future of media: The Columbia Journalism Review’s “Special report: the future of media” provides interesting fodder on “the long view” of the future of media.
- Wikipedia and PR: This month’s edition of the CW Bulletin (a monthly e-newsletter) from IABC, “PR and Wikipedia: Building a better relationship,” dives into the issues and current topics around the relationship between communicators and the world’s largest encyclopedia. There are feature articles on ethics, strategy and engagement, as well as additional column articles and case studies. For a complementary view on the challenges people sometimes face in updating incorrect or outdated information on Wikipedia, read the novelist and author Philip Roth’s “An Open Letter to Wikipedia” from the New Yorker last week. (Note that the Wikipedia entry for Roth’s The Human Stain has since been changed and is now correct.)
- Corporate social media management: Jeremiah Owyang has published a helpful series of blog posts over the last few weeks on the internal structures and management of social media at large corporations: “Breakdown: Social Media Workflow, Process, Triage,” “Breakdown: Converged Media Workflow (Coordinating Paid + Owned + Earned),” and “Breakdown: Corporate Social Media Team.”
We hope everyone enjoyed the long holiday weekend here in the U.S. Now back to our usual schedule.
- Trust and the media: A recent study found that even though trust in media institutions has been falling, most people would still rather get their news from professional journalists. From Poynter‘s story on the study: “More than 60 percent of U.S. adults say they “prefer news stories produced by professional journalists,” and more than 70 percent agree that “professional journalists play an important role in our society,” according to new survey data from the Reynolds Journalism Institute.” The full survey also looked at the role of mobile technologies on news and views on media consumption.
- Social technologies and business value: The McKinsey Global Institute issued an interesting research report in July, “The social economy: Unlocking value and productivity through social technologies.” The report “explores [the technologies’] potential economic impact by examining their current usage and evolving application in four commercial sectors: consumer packaged goods, retail financial services, advanced manufacturing, and professional services. These technologies, which create value by improving productivity across the value chain, could potentially contribute $900 billion to $1.3 trillion in annual value across the four sectors.” In essence, the research found that although the majority of companies are using social media in some capacity, “very few are anywhere near to achieving the full potential benefit.” (report via Shel Holtz)
- President Obama and Reddit: The President participated in an “Ask Me Anything” (or AMA) forum on the social site Reddit last week, notable as a new presidential social media tactic. The Nieman Journalism Lab has a good round-up of opinions on the tactic, and David Carr at the New York Times has some background on Reddit, for those not familiar with the site.