When left-leaning activists fail to get legislatures to do their bidding, they often turn to the courts. But recently they have identified new agents for change: corporations.
Corporations are huge and have massive influence over society. Millions of Americans are affected just by the employee policies they adopt, not to mention the politicians they endorse, ideas they support, and bills they lobby for. For example, Target’s adoption of transgender bathrooms helped pave the way for a broader legislative and regulatory push for transgender policies across the country. Perhaps most attractive to the political left, there is no organized opposition to leftist dominance in corporate board rooms.
This explains why there is a newly-launched campaign to convince corporations to side with the abortion industry against the pro-life movement.
This effort is spearheaded by Rhia Ventures, a new “social investment company dedicated to advancing “women’s reproductive health,” including abortion procedures. Their efforts have been backed by high-profile investment managers including Service Employment International Union, the Presbyterian Church, and the Office of the New York Comptroller Scott Stringer. All in all, the groups that signed on to Rhia Venture’s letter represent $236 billion worth of assets.
The world of corporate activism is a convoluted and highly-technical arena, but liberal activists have it down to a science. Activists navigate a complex web of government regulations to propose resolutions to companies, and these resolutions can then be voted on by shareholders of a company. One can’t help but note the irony of the progressive left, taking a break from bemoaning the control corporations have over our politics, to ask those same corporations to lead moral change in our society.
But rarely are these resolutions ever voted on. Instead, companies usually respond with secretive negotiations that result in the removal of the resolution in exchange for significant concessions to progressive groups. Activists get the policy goals they want, and corporations avoid the negative publicity they don’t want.
Just this year, activist investors have trained their fire on a number of corporations for not actively promoting abortion. A series of shareholder resolutions were filed with Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, Home Depot, Macy’s, and Progressive Corporation. These resolutions ask the companies to assess the risk of state pro-life laws and to disclose what they are planning to do to “mitigate the risk” of these laws impacting reproductive health.
In addition to these resolutions, Rhia Ventures sent a letter in September 2019 to over 30 Fortune 500 companies hoping to start a dialogue on the ways that the businesses can promote access to abortion through insurance, benefits, public policy, and political spending.
These investors have been so successful in the past that they are brazenly projecting where they will go next: they want to prevent company PACs from supporting any candidate who is pro-life.
Businesses had largely been able to stay out of the abortion wars before Rhia Ventures sent the letter. Roll Call reported in February that they had not seen any shareholder resolutions related to abortion since the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade in 1973. But emboldened by success and frustrated by state legislatures, activists are seizing the opportunity to push the culture leftward. Rhia Ventures brags that their work represents “the first sustained, multi-investor effort” to pressure businesses on the topic.
With the weight of billions of dollars of investments, including the investments of the nation’s largest Presbyterian denomination, Rhia Ventures is making the argument that neutrality is not possible. Corporations will lose some of their customers and investors no matter what, so they might as well take a stand in support of abortion.
Businesses should resist the siren song of the left. While it is true that responsible corporations should care about their community and not just their bottom line, they should not be the instruments of controversial changes in public policy. Indeed, it is problematic for the health of the republic if those who cannot pass their agenda democratically turn to extra-political institutions to force their wills on the American people.
Corporate activism is particularly dangerous because it is so subtle. Few Americans know the decisions that go on in corporate boardrooms and shareholder meetings. You would think major media outlets would care about this way that democracy is dying in darkness, but so far they have had little to say. Perhaps any method, no matter how undemocratic, is acceptable if it can be used to advance progressive policy goals
It’s no surprise that abortion advocates, faced with a series of defeats in state legislatures across the country, turn to the least democratic and most secretive way to influence the American people. But businesses should not fall for the left’s trap. Corporations must focus on bringing good return for their shareholders and making meaningful investment in their communities rather than serving as the political pawn for a politically frustrated left.
Now that would actually be good for business.
Bryce Asberg is a George Washington Fellow and a senior studying theology.