Thursday, March 1, 2018

Corporate America Versus the NRA

Leading American businesses are going toe to toe with the National Rifle Association (NRA). Corporate America is heeding the call for change in the wake of the shooting that killed 17 people at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida.

More than 20 companies have severed their ties with the NRA because the gun advocacy group refuses to consider common sense solutions. The NRA controversy is unfolding against the backdrop of a changing landscape where it may no longer possible for companies to remain neutral.

Severing ties

In response to customer feedback and consumer complaints companies across America are severing their ties with the NRA. This includes Republic Bank, Securian Financial Group, First National Bank of Omaha, Delta airlines, Allied Van Lines, North American Van Lines, Avis Rental Cars, Budget Rental Cars, Hurtz Rental Cars, Alamo Rental Cars, Enterprise Rental Cars, National Rental Cars, MetLife, Chubb Insurance, Lockton Insurance, TrueCar, Teledoc, SimpliSafe, Symantec, LifeLock, Starkey Hearing Technologies, and Wild Apricot. United Airlines, best known for its very public customer service fiasco, has severed ties with the NRA. More companies are expected to follow.

Even companies that do not have a formal relationship with the NRA are releasing statements to appraise their clientele of that fact. Best Western Hotels and Resorts turned to Twitter to make it known that they do not have a partnership with the NRA. Wyndham Hotels, the parent company of Ramada, Days Inn and Super 8, also issued a public statement clarifying that they are not involved with the NRA.

Dick's Sporting Goods and Walmart have both voluntarily stopped selling assault rifles and guns to people under 21. In a CNN broadcast on the afternoon of February 28th a Parkland school survivor by the name of Alfonso Calderone lauded the retailers and expressed optimism that businesses can play a constructive role on gun control.

However, there are still a handful of companies that continue to do business with the NRA, this includes eHealth, FedEx,, Life Insurance Central, LifeLine Screening, ManageUrID, Medical Concierge Network and Vinesse Wines.

Conservative clash

The NRA boycott is also part of a paradigm changing confrontation between two pillars of the American right. For decades business and guns have managed to coexist as distinct planks in the Republican platform. Now that these two worlds are colliding it is unlikely that either side will emerge unscathed.

Gun violence has even driven a wedge between the NRA and Trump. The incalcitrant comments of the NRA's Wayne LaPierre at the Conservative Political Action Conference are at odds with Trump's support for legislative action. Although Trump defended the NRA on Twitter calling them "great people" he disagrees with LaPierre on the issues of lowering the minimum age to purchase guns and comprehensive background checks.

Gun lobby diminished

The clash of these two titans will diminish the NRA and reshape the political landscape. After years of throwing its financial weight around the NRA is now under siege. Like the fossil fuel industry, the NRA has used its tremendous influence and economic clout to buy and bully lawmakers.

For years the NRA has flexed its muscles and subverted the popular will. The fact that they are being abandoned by dozens of companies has significant implications. The NRA uses its influence and financial resources to buy politicians particularly those in the GOP. The loss of corporate partnerships reduces the NRA's financial stature. Less money means they will not be able to wield as much influence.

Corporate climate leadership

Six months before companies began distancing themselves from the NRA, CEOs were condemning Trump for calling the Nazis marching in Charlottesville "fine people".

The corporate response to the NRA is part of a wider trend. Companies are increasingly using their power for good. Corporations across America and around the world are engaging in social and environmental causes. We have seen a tremendous upsurge in the number of corporations that are engaged in climate action. Many of these same companies have CEOs that are openly challenging Trump. Tesla's CEO Elon Musk is one of many who have pushed back against Trump's wrongmindedness.

Corporate America warned Trump to stick with the Paris Climate Agreement and rebuked him when he withdrew. Corporate America has also rejected Trump's climate denial and supported renewables. They have also been powerful advocates for sustainability.

Risks of inaction outweigh the risks of action

The big story here is that companies are acting in unprecedented numbers. We have seen sustainability go mainstream and become an unstoppable megatrend. The winds of change are blowing. "Corporations are built for survival. When they feel the winds going in one direction, the corporation will go in that direction," says Chuck Welch, the chief strategy officer at Rupture Studio and a company branding expert. "And right now, there’s a major backlash against the NRA … brands are listening."

Historically corporations steer clear of controversy and polarizing discussions. This is particularly true of publicly traded companies which generally seek to avoid contentious political issues altogether. However, technological changes are making it increasingly difficult to stay out of the debate and above the frey.

It may now be riskier to sit on the sidelines than it is to act. Companies are coming to the conclusion that they can't afford to do nothing, "inaction is action," says Welch. Businesses need to be mindful of ceding a competitive advantage by failing to speak out. Inaction is negatively perceived and this is particularly true of consumer-facing brands.

Although failing to act may put your brand at risk there are also risks associated with engagement. According to a Morning Consult poll, it would appear that there is a decline in favorability assessments associated with companies that are boycotting the NRA.

NRA supporters are also organizing boycotts of their own. Boycotts can have bottom line impacts and they can also push your customers into the arms of your competitors.Some state politicians are even trying to penalize companies that have ended their partnerships with the NRA.

However, many companies have come to the conclusion that staying with the NRA will prove to be more costly than abandoning the gun advocacy group. As reported on, an analysis by B Lab indicates that certified B Corps companies that have met the highest standards of CSR performance grow 28 times faster than national average.

B Corp companies are also better able to attract employees and gain new audiences. B Lab executive director Katie Hill said: “The word ‘revolution’ is overused these days - but with the range and calibre of businesses that are part of the B Corp movement, who are so committed to using their business as a force for good, it’s hard to deny that meaningful change is underway.

Student advocacy

Students are driving the campaign and they are going after the NRA's congressional minions. They are using their digital proficiency to disseminate their messages through their social networks. Their ability to spawn memes may be part of the reason why students are succeeding where the parents of previous shooting victims failed.

However, the success of the #boycottnra campaign is largely due to the disciplined messaging coming from student advocates. They are boldly going after politicians who support and are supported by the NRA.

"If our elected officials are not willing to stand up and say, 'I'm not going to continue to take money from the NRA because children are dying', they shouldn't be in office and they won't be in office because this is a midterm year and this is the change that we need," Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg told CNN.

These kids are not deterred by death threats, they are organizing a protest in Washington on April 20th and they have made it clear that they will not relent.

In the words of another Parkland shooting victim Delany Tarr, "no longer can you take money from the NRA. No longer can you fly under the radar doing whatever it is you want to do because we're coming after you. We're coming after every single one of you and demanding that you take action, demanding that you make a change."

There is a cascade effect associated with the fallout from the latest gun violence in Florida. Repercussions will extend to gun manufacturers, gun distributors and elected officials. If as expected Republican lawmakers prove unwilling to support legislation some of these legislators may soon find themselves out of work.

Social advocacy has come of age and the business community has tremendous leverage. Corporations can change the world for the better and when companies bring their collective efforts to bear it can be a game changer.

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Student Led Movement Challenges the NRA and the GOP 
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Sustainability Leadership: 500 Companies, 50 Drivers, 5 Reasons and 5 CEOs
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Sustainability is a Strategic Imperative
How Sustainability has Become a Mainstream Phenomenon
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Sustainability is an Unstoppable Megatrend
The Overwhelming Logic of Sustainable Business

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