MARCANO: Businesses see social causes differently than lawmakers

It seems that, increasingly, businesses are becoming a firewall against lawmakers who seek to force their value systems on the populace.

I thought about this when Walmart announced it would expand abortion benefits and offer travel support for its employees. The move comes after Dick’s Sporting Goods said it would refund travel expenses, up to $4,000, for employees seeking the procedure.

That’s a big deal in a state like Ohio, which has 172 Walmart stores (38 in southwest Ohio) employing nearly 57,000 people.

There are other issues, too. Some businesses have either stopped selling assault-style weapons and/or increased the age, to 21, to purchase a firearm. Some banks won’t lend money to firms that produce or sell military-style weapons.

The Dayton Chamber of Commerce and other local businesses have strong diversity, equity, and inclusion as well as racial justice programs.

“The Dayton Region’s business community feels a responsibility to stand up for what’s right, and for issues that foster a healthy business environment,” the Dayton Chamber said in a statement. “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is an area of focus that’s vital for successful business leaders today.”

What’s going on here?

It’s a question that got Lee Hannah, a political scientist at Wright State, thinking. Businesses have played a role in social issues in the past. For example, the NFL pulled the 1993 Super Bowl out of Arizona when the state initially refused to make Martin Luther King Day an official state holiday (it did in 1992).

And while Hannah said it certainly feels like more businesses are getting involved, it’s hard to quantify because of a lack of research.

But the numbers we have seem to tell the story. More than 400 major businesses, including Apple, Marriott, and Capital One, endorsed the Equality Act, the LGBTQ+ rights legislation. As some states try to restrict voting rights, 150 companies, including Pepsi, Google, and Target, voiced support for new voting rights legislation.

This business activism crystalizes an interesting issue. Politicians make laws they believe will appeal to the most passionate portion of their base — those people who will vote to keep them in power.

But businesses have to satisfy a more diverse audience and understand they should reflect the communities they serve, which means a diverse workforce and leadership.

For example, more than 80% of workers, according to one poll, want to work for a company that has a strong DE&I program, an example of how companies address popular social causes.

The businesses “put their neck on the line for policies that are pretty popular,” Hannah noted. “When it comes to … a response to Dobbs or the George Floyd murder, they’re kind of on the side of public opinion.”

There’s another side to this. Some believe that businesses shouldn’t engage in politics or policies the government doesn’t agree with. For example, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis tried to ban private businesses from holding bias and diversity training in his state, but a federal judge struck down the law as a violation of the First Amendment.

This tug-of-war on social issues sets up a strange dichotomy in which governments can pass unpopular laws on social issues that businesses can find creative ways to work around because that’s what their employees and community expect from them.

“I think in general, kind of across the board, we’ve moved into a place where being apolitical is just not as well received (and) silence is unacceptable,” Hannah said.

It appears that, increasingly, we hear voices of social responsibility coming from businesses that have a larger constituency than those of any state capital. It’s a voice we should pay attention to.

Feel free to send me an email detailing what you think about businesses taking social advocacy roles. I might write a column based on your thoughts.

You know what they say about Karma. My column last Sunday dealt with the importance of being courteous because COVID is so hard to detect. That same morning, I felt lousy, took a test that came back COVID positive. Thank you, Karma.

Ray Marcano’s column appears on these pages each Sunday. He can be reached at

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