Can we place our trust in companies when they discuss matters of equality and justice?
In the 2016 NFL season, Colin Kaepernick, a San Francisco 49ers quarterback, protested racial injustice by initially sitting and later kneeling during the US national anthem. This silent protest gained attention during a contentious period, drawing praise from some and accusations of disrespect from others. It ultimately cost Kaepernick his NFL career but gave him a new platform when he became the face of Nike's 'Dream Crazy' campaign with the slogan: ‘Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.’
Despite initial backlash, the campaign was successful.
Two years later, Nike faced criticism for lobbying to weaken US measures against forced labor in Xinjiang, China, a major cotton-producing region.
Recently, all of us have come across in surprisingly virtuous advertising campaigns where, instead of emphasising the qualities of their products, companies implement communication aimed at spreading values and world-views.
In other words, companies, rather than solely focusing on shareholders, employees, and customers, seem to care about social justice or other significant issues (environment, politics, racism, etc.).
They, therefore, extend their responsibility to areas that are in no way connected to their interests.
These examples are not unique. Nike is far from the only global brand whose attempts to co-opt ‘woke’ causes have left it open to allegations of hypocrisy, but does the corporate world’s calculated embrace of social justice pose a more significant societal threat?
In his engaging book, “Woke Capitalism: How Corporate Morality is Sabotaging Democracy”, Carl Rhodes – a professor at the University of Technology Sydney – argues that it does. He explains that multinational corporations engage in "virtue signalling" solely to reposition themselves in the market and divert attention away from real inequalities.
Their activism is marketing, with the goal of continuing to do business, and their calculated embrace of social justice has a negative impact on democracy, allowing wealthy individuals to influence global issues according to their personal preferences.
While Rhodes isn't anti-"woke", he does criticise the system's inequities and calls for reforms, including raising taxes on big business, challenging corporate power, and revising the neoliberal consensus.
Overall, "Woke Capitalism" questions the motives behind corporate social responsibility and its impact on democracy, while recognising the value of social justice movements.
In the media
'Why progressive gestures from big business aren’t just useless – they’re dangerous' in The Guardian 'Prince Harry’s critics have a point: woke capitalism is no solution' in The Conversation 'The ‘war on woke’ pits corporate elites against conservatives. So who will win?' in The New Daily 'The woke business school' in The PRME Blog 'Getting woke to woke capitalism' on Transforming Society 'PODCAST: How woke capitalism is sabotaging democracy' on Transforming Society 'Is woke capitalism a threat to democracy?' in New Humanist
In the Italian media
L’Espresso, Luigi Bruschi, 24.09.2023
ADN Kronos, 19-09-2023
La Verità, Francesco Borgonovo19.09.2023
Nicolaporro.it 17.09.2023, 15:01
Talentilucani.it, Gerardo Lisco 19/06/2023