Corporations have an incredible impact on our culture today. Large outfits in tech, banking, and finance serve billions of customers worldwide. Their products have become ubiquitous in our lives, to the point that their influence in the marketplace is inestimable. We can hardly imagine daily life without brands like Apple, Microsoft, Bank of America, or Google.
But many of these large publicly traded companies are using their wealth and influence to engage in highly politicized activism. This is a deviation from the time-tested focus on delivering valuable goods and services to the widest possible range of consumers, and it creates a pigeon-holed political agenda that harms shareholders, customers, and even the companies themselves.
Lack of viewpoint diversity leaves companies vulnerable to risk
Take Disney, for example. This year, the company announced it did not support Florida’s bill to protect parental rights in education. And after the bill was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis, Disney CEO Bob Chapek released a statement saying the bill “should never have been signed into law.” Parents and other Disney fans swiftly responded, publicly denouncing the company and unsubscribing from its streaming platform, Disney+.
Disney employees spoke off the record as well, with one describing the “angst” they felt a result of Disney’s political actions. “The Walt Disney Company has come to be an increasingly uncomfortable place to work for those of us whose political and religious views are not explicitly progressive,” employees wrote in an open letter to the company. “We watch quietly as our beliefs come under attack from our own employer, and we frequently see those who share our opinions condemned as villains by our own leadership.”
Disney didn’t do itself any favors by taking sides on a hot-button social issue unrelated to its mission. But what’s more concerning is that its actions—and similar moves by other corporations—chip away at our nation’s cultural foundations of free speech and religious liberty.
When a publicly traded company weaponizes its shareholder dollars to insert itself into the political arena, it not only breaks trust with its own shareholders—whose part ownership in the corporation is most often based on fiduciary interests rather than political affinity—it also sends a message to employees, customers, and the public that those with different viewpoints are not welcome.
As we’re seeing from the backlash to Disney’s foray into politics, a CEO’s decision can easily break down civility within a company, alienate a customer base, and generate concerns from shareholders whose ownership stake is being used to trample on their core values. A recent poll conducted by Echelon on behalf of The Daily Wire demonstrated this. Of the 1,000 investors polled, The Daily Wire found that “[w]hile 29% of respondents agreed it is a ‘good thing’ for companies to leverage their financial power for political or social means supported by executives, 58% — twice as many — said it is a “bad thing.”
Investment manager Jerry Bowyer put it perfectly in a letter he wrote to corporations: “In the body politic, companies are the strong arms which turn the dynamo of growing productivity, not the mouth which lectures the world on politics. We already have other institutions such as political parties and campaigns to fulfill the political role. They can be the mouth; you should keep being the arm.”
“In the body politic, companies are the strong arms which turn the dynamo of growing productivity, not the mouth which lectures the world on politics. We already have other institutions such as political parties and campaigns to fulfill the political role. They can be the mouth; you should keep being the arm.”—Jerry Bowyer
Our studies reveal companies are in dire need of viewpoint diversity
To keep these corporations accountable, we’ve released a Business Index. We scored 50 Fortune 1000 companies on a host of measures to determine if they respect those with diverse political and social views, including whether they use divisive concepts in their employee trainings and to what extent they embrace viewpoint diversity in their workplaces.
Our goal is to help C-suite leaders, employees, customers, and shareholders determine whether businesses respect these key stakeholders’ freedom of expression and freedom of religion—and help companies get back on the right track.
Unsurprisingly, the results of our Index were alarming. Benchmarked companies scored an average of 12 percent overall on respecting religious and ideological diversity in the market, workplace, and public square. Between engaging in cancel culture and censorship, it’s no wonder that employees across the country feel uncomfortable sharing their beliefs in the workplace.
Publicly traded companies have a responsibility to act in the best interests of everyone—from the C-suite to the shop floor, and across their wide base of consumers and shareholders. These corporations can and should do their part to foster a culture that values free speech and religious freedom, and that begins with saying no to activists who would leverage the company’s influence to engage in cancel culture.
Yet it’s clear that Big Tech platforms are currently not valuing free speech.
How corporations wield power to silence certain opinions
We saw this in action when Amazon temporarily banned Abigail Shrier’s investigative book on transgender trends among girls. “A network of activists and their journalistic enablers have largely succeeded in suppressing a real discussion of the over-diagnosis of gender dysphoria among vulnerable girls,” Shrier said.
Amazon alleged that it removed Shrier’s book because it violated the company’s speech codes—an ambiguous set of rules Amazon can weaponize against ideas it disfavors. But given that Amazon has become the world’s largest online seller of books, barring certain titles puts those books at a big disadvantage and chills expression. Who would write or publish a book promoting a viewpoint that the biggest book seller in the world won’t sell?
Yet Amazon isn’t the only company with ambiguous speech codes. Apple and Meta also muddy their guidelines with vague terms that can easily be used to suppress views that employees dislike.
Apple’s speech code for apps it allows to be sold on the App Store states, “We will reject apps for any content or behavior that we believe is over the line. What line, you ask? Well, as a Supreme Court Justice once said, ‘I’ll know it when I see it.’ And we think that you will also know it when you cross it.” Apple’s vague terms allow employees to restrict the free exchange of ideas on its platform—which serves over one billion people worldwide.
Meta’s similarly subjective policy reads, “[W]e don’t allow hate speech on Facebook. … We define hate speech as a direct attack against people—rather than concepts or institutions—on the basis of what we call protected characteristics.” Meta also links to an article stating, “There is no universally accepted answer for when something crosses the [hate speech] line.” As Jay Hobbs pointed out in an article for the Viewpoint Diversity Score, “anyone tasked with enforcing Meta’s ‘hate speech’ policy must rely on his or her own opinion and instincts in order to ultimately decide who gets to say what on one of the world’s largest online platforms.”
“Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.”—Elon Musk
How companies can get back on the right track
Shortly after agreeing to purchase Twitter for roughly $44 billion, Elon Musk declared that “Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.” Musk’s statement underscores the role that platforms like Twitter play in the public square, and therefore the responsibility they have to support a culture that embraces free speech.
One way that companies can mitigate risks, maintain a competitive edge, and help foster a culture of free speech is by supporting viewpoint diversity. They can do this by adopting the kinds of policies we lay out at ViewpointDiversityScore.org, policies that bar censorship within companies and explicitly state that they won’t punish employees for expressing their beliefs.
Alliance Defending Freedom is committed to fostering a culture of civility where free speech and religious liberty flourish. A big part of that includes making sure that companies today respect the free exchange of ideas. Join us in our mission and subscribe to receive updates about the Viewpoint Diversity Score.