When the Call Comes from Inside the House

Written by FASPE Business Fellows Brian Hathaway and Courtney Kaplan

What makes individuals complicit with objectionable policies? How should companies respond when legal, profit-maximizing behavior is viewed by some stakeholders as unethical?

Companies have become accustomed to challenges from legislators, regulators, and social movement activists. A recent wave of protests reflect the emerging power of a different set of stakeholders: junior employees. These public challenges "from within" call on company leaders to sever ties with problematic clients. The emergent debate touches on questions of complicity and corporate citizenship that are integral to FASPE's treatment of business ethics.

Online furniture retailer Wayfair recently became the latest instance of this trend. As this article summarizes, a tweet from a non-employee drew attention to the company "fulfilling a $200,000 furniture order for detention centers on the US-Mexico border." As the news spread, employees organized a walk-out, arguing that the company was profiting from the inhumane treatment of migrants. Executives responded to the uproar by donating $100,000 to the Red Cross, while reiterating a policy of selling "to any customer who is acting within the laws of the countries within which we operate."

In addition to Wayfair, many consulting and technology companies have experienced similar employee protests on a wide variety of issues. These encounters raise many worthwhile questions. How should a company respond to diverse and divergent views their employees hold? How and when should employees mobilize? And who gets the final say in defining a company's activities and exchange partners? While definitive answers remain elusive, we expect employee protests to become more frequent and even more consequential in the coming years.

Read the original article from the Boston Globe.