Early last week the Wall Street Journal published a story on the companies that are starting to speak out against the recently-enacted Texas SB8 law that effectively bans abortion in the state. A law that not only seems to be in direct conflict with the precedent set and re-set by Roe v. Wade and subsequent efforts to overturn it, but one that sets up a bizarre “bounty” system that tries to get around Roe v. Wade by making it literally anybody’s business if a woman seeks an abortion. The law empowers citizen lawsuits against providers…providers of the abortion itself or just providers of assistance in getting one. It’s no wonder that the dystopian once-upon-a-time-only-a-fantasy The Handmaid’s Tale is on the tip of everyone’s tongues.
Led by advocacy group Don’t Ban Equality, more than 50 prominent companies have signed on to a statement that contends, among other things, that “Equality in the workplace is one of the most important business issues of our time. Restricting access to comprehensive reproductive care, including abortion, threatens the health, independence, and economic stability of our workers and customers.”
Among the participating companies that are often found at the forefront of social issues are Patagonia, Seventh Generation, and Ben & Jerry’s. But among the participating companies who are doing something a bit more out of the norm for them are companies like Yelp, Momentive (formerly SurveyMonkey), Atlassian, and Asana. Notably missing are some of the biggest companies actually headquartered in Texas, such as Dell, American Airlines, Kimberly-Clark, AT&T and a slew of oil companies.
Before anyone wonders why companies are weighing in on issues at all, especially issues like reproductive care, voting rights, trans bathroom bills and more that could be considered politically sensitive, there are two reasons these “political” issues (that are really human rights issues) are business issues:
1. Consumers demand it.
Edelman’s annual Trust survey has shown for years now that consumers trust companies more than other institutions in our lives, such as governments and media. We can argue the validity of those feelings, but we can’t argue the bottom line: Consumers want to know where companies, and CEOs specifically, stand, and they make decisions based on what they know.
Moreover, despite a near-constant attack on reproductive rights and care from the right since Roe v. Wade, according to Gallup long-term tracking, the opinion of 18-49 year old Americans hasn’t budged since the 70s: Only about 20% of Americans in that age range (the most coveted purchasing demographic for most companies) think abortion should be illegal…today, twenty years ago, and forty years ago.
2. Employees deserve it.
Every company that proclaims that it cares about equity, inclusivity, and respect for its workforce should consider signing on to oppose this law a no-brainer. It is impossible to separate reproductive justice from economic justice or even racial justice. Laws like the Texas law will disproportionately affect not just every woman in the workforce, but even more so women of color, lower-income women, women with disabilities, and other people who may have to deal with pregnancy but don’t identify as women.
In other words, people from the already-under-served and under-represented groups that companies talk a good game about protecting and uplifting. Don’t Ban Equality compiles the polling that shows that workers want their companies to care about their rights and that workers will think twice about going to work in states with oppressive laws in place.
Given the extremity of the Texas law, it’s an excellent opportunity for companies to walk their talk and send a signal to other states that there may be business consequences if they follow in Texas’s footsteps. And to provide clarity (and possibly comfort) to the people in your company who look to company leadership to take stands on issues.
It’s relevant to your business if you have customers in Texas. If you have workers in Texas. If you expect your workers to travel to Texas. If you’re hosting an event in Texas. If you have vendors in Texas. Even if you’re simply concerned about the ripple effect that may happen in other states in which you do business.
And the range of choices on what to do is wide. Some companies, like Lyft and Uber, are already setting up protective policies for their staff to turn to if they run afoul of the law, for example, legal funds. (Although activists have noted that’s a form of acceptance of the law versus taking more specific and drastic actions that would resist it.) Donations are being made, to national organizations and to organizations on the ground in Texas. A prominent television producer, David Simon, just pulled his next HBO show out of filming in Texas. The Don’t Ban Equality letter is an easy-lift channel by which companies are pushing back and raising their corporate voices.
There’s a strong argument that laws like SB8 are bad for business, and that case is most strongly made by businesses. But the question is bigger than just this law, this state. It’s this: When it comes to standing up for the civil and human rights of your customers and colleagues, what is your plan? We know your customers and your colleagues are watching, so how will your company meet the expectations of modern consumers and the modern workforce?
What is your company doing now, and what will it do?
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