After the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, not only have victims of the shooting come out against the National Rifle Association, but companies have as well, begging the question: should companies express political views?
Legally, corporations have many of the same rights as people, epitomized by the term corporate personhood. One of the rights of corporations established in the Supreme Court case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission is the right to fund political broadcasts in candidate elections without limitations. More importantly, corporations have the same free speech rights as people, meaning that this political expression is legitimate. Despite this legal right, companies have not always been as inclined to speak on political issues; however, this type of commentary has increased in current times.
With its statement on Feb. 28, Dick’s Sporting Goods is one of the more recent examples of a company entering the political fray. Due to the recent shooting, Dick’s committed itself to no longer selling assault-style rifles and will only sell guns to customers 21 and over and has also instituted more stringent criteria. Although some customers responded positively, many announced they would be boycotting Dick’s for this act of political side-taking. This is a common measure as in recent times, companies seen as political in any sense have been the victims of boycotts.
The risk of losing customers is often a deterrent for companies to speak out. Yet Apple CEO Tim Cook raises an interesting point: companies are a collection of people, so why shouldn’t they have values just as people do? Taking into consideration the fact that corporations are often looked at as people under the law, this idea starts to develop further. Companies should strive to uphold values they as a group believe to be important to the company’s identity.
In this way, the actions of Dick’s and other companies that have broken contracts with the NRA seems like the correct course of action for a moral company. Companies cannot pretend to be apolitical, as supporting the NRA may be morally repugnant to them, as it is to some Americans. Like any person, these companies are simply deciding not to support something that is incompatible with their values.
If anything, companies have a responsibility to express their political views. In doing so, they not only allow customers to know whether or not those they are supporting are aligned with their own personal values, but also act as conduits through which Americans can voice their opinions.
Companies are the closest thing to representatives of the people, besides Congress itself. Like congress men and women, companies rely on the people to maintain their power. Companies also have an inherent wish to appeal to the widest audience, in order to obtain the most customers. Therefore, when they express political views, the views expressed will likely be those of the majority of their customer base. In this way, they represent the people but allow for their opinions to have a greater voice and wider influence.
Overall, the recent wave of companies coming out against the NRA is not a step backward but forward. It shows a cultural shift, as moral responsibility is seen not just with people, but with corporations too.
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Email Victor Porcelli at [email protected].