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Leftist activists influence society through cor­porate policy. Tar­get’s adoption of trans­gender restrooms paved the way for other busi­nesses and insti­tu­tions to do the same. | Wiki­media Commons

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.