Run the Numbers: Why Retail CEOs Should Take a Firm Stand on Social Issues

Run the Numbers unpacks the data that’s driving top retail trends in the industry.

More companies face increasing pressure to be more vocal about controversial issues as a new generation of consumers led by millennials and Generation Zers continue to demand that they take a firm stand or risk losing business.

According to global communications firm Edelman, roughly 76% of people — an 11-point gain from the previous annual survey — said that CEOs should take the lead on change rather than waiting for government to impose it. Among the top issues that respondents believed CEOs can have significant impact are equal pay (65% of those surveyed), prejudice and discrimination (64%), training for the jobs of tomorrow (64%), the environment (56%) and personal data (55%).

2019 Edelman Trust Barometer Global Report
2019 Edelman Trust Barometer Global Report.
CREDIT: Edelman

Further, among employees, 71% agree that it’s critically important for the CEOs to respond to challenging times, including industry issues, political events or national crisis issues.

In August, Business Roundtable, which counts retailers like Macy’s, Target and Walmart as members, announced that it was updating its corporate governance principles. The principles have served as a guideline for “the purpose of a corporation” for more than four decades.

More than 180 CEOs penned a letter updating their standard for corporate responsibility: Instead of basing it on shareholder value alone, executives said they would conduct business for the benefit of all stakeholders — not only generating long-term profits for shareholders, but also dealing fairly with suppliers, investing in employees, supporting communities and delivering value for customers.

The move emphasized the rising influence of consumer values on corporate decision-making. In the past couple of years alone, companies from sportswear giant Nike and canvas shoemaker Toms to nationwide chains such as Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods have adopted controversial viewpoints and have enacted new policies with a focus on gun safety to diversity and inclusion. At times, particularly in the case of Dick’s Sporting Goods, corporate change has been at the expense of revenues. Dick’s Sporting Goods notably forfeited millions in sales when it amended its firearms policy in 2019.

Edelman surveyed more than 33,000 respondents both online and offline between the dates of October 19 and November 16, 2018.

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