CEO activism gains momentum - Activate World

CEO activism gains momentum


For the past several years a growing number of chief executives are speaking out about social, political and environmental issues unrelated to their companies’ bottom lines. Topics include climate change, gender pay equity, same-sex marriage, immigration, gun control and discrimination.

A new poll finds that a majority of consumers expect chief executives to act on social issues, even before lawmakers do. According to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, a poll of 33,000 respondents in 28 markets globally, “Sixty-four percent of people say that CEOs should take the lead on change rather than waiting for government to impose it.” Further, the poll found that “84 percent expect CEOs to inform conversations and policy debates on one or more issues,” and 56 percent said, “they have no respect for CEOs who remain silent on important issues.”

The Edelman annual poll is often discussed among the executives at gatherings such as the World Economic Forum. This year a finding of note is that “all age groups expect a company’s CEO to be personally visible in sharing its purpose and vision,” (79% for all age groups combined).

Business leaders are addressing many nontraditional issues. For example, large banks such as Citigroup and Bank of America developed policies to address their relationships with gunmakers. Blackrock, the world’s largest money manager, recently told companies that they need to contribute to society or risk losing Blackrock’s support.


  • Political and social upheaval has provoked frustration and outrage, inspiring business leaders like Tim Cook of Apple, Howard Schultz of Starbucks, and Marc Benioff of Salesforce—among many others—to passionately advocate for a range of causes.
  • Marc Benioff told Time, “Today CEOs need to stand up not just for their shareholders, but their employees, their customers, their partners, the community, the environment, schools, everybody.”
  • “Our jobs as CEOs now include driving what we think is right,” Bank of America’s CEO, Brian Moynihan, told the Wall Street Journal “It’s not exactly political activism, but it is action on issues beyond business.”

Quests and Actions (Q&A):

  • Do calls for companies to take a political stance reflect our extreme political polarization, leaving the public with nowhere else to turn or seek meaningful change?
  • Do you think that CEO activism influences the decisions and actions of government?
  • How important is it for CEOs and corporate boards to make sure their own houses are in order before activating?

Sources: Harvard Business ReviewChief Executive, NYTimes, QuartzWSJ