Brands Are Saying They Stand Up for Black Lives, But Do They Really?
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Democratizing the feedback loop
Modern media has a message for the broken companies of today: Fix your problems of your own accord, or we may empower a dialogue that requires your attention.
A new report from The Verge highlighting hazardous working conditions at Away has reignited the debate over their first blockbuster story, and raised questions about a future in which limelight brands can expect an increased level of scrutiny.
However, there has been an ongoing conversation as to whether the original exposé was fair to Away in the first place. While CEO Steph Korey’s behavior described towards employees was not excusable by most standards, and indeed resulted in the acceleration of Stuart Haselden’s appointment as Away’s new CEO, there has arguably been a comparative lack of outrage around the bad behavior of male executives. Notably, Korey's successor Haselden is himself a white male.
What’s more, there has emerged conjecture as to whether or not the whole leak was a calculated affair, offered up by board members hoping to speed Korey’s transition, or to create pressure on the company to exit earlier than planned. Some have even made the case that Korey’s behavior was not only normal, but worthy of praise, and a sign of strong leadership.
Learning to run a company is impossibly hard. The market doesn’t care if its hard. it seems like @stephkorey is willing to do whatever it takes to fulfill Away’s promise to their customers. After reading the Verge article, my respect for her resolve has only grown.— Jeff Lu (@JiffyLu) December 6, 2019
But this latest story focused less on the company’s direct treatment of employees, and rather the working conditions they were subjected to. Namely mold, paint fumes, a lack of heating and ventilation, and potential fire safety issues. Among other concerns, employees identified a lack of attention to their complaints, and stated that management “seems resentful of our department voicing issues.” Employee reports led to an OSHA investigation, which found Away had committed no violations.
With the Away story serving as a sort of Rorschach test indicating how tolerant individuals are of corporate misbehavior, it’s fair to assume that 2020 will yield an increase in such investigative reporting. The bringing to light of unfair working conditions, HR practices, and executive abuse is not only necessary journalism, but a major traffic conductor. In anticipation of further media attention on workplace culture, the story has shaken up executive attitudes, causing many to reevaluate their own policies and behavior, hold themselves to higher standards, and tend to skeletons in their closet.
Because while c-suites have gotten away with deviant behavior for years, the Away saga has proven the power of media and social networks to generate enough of a groundswell to lead to actual change. Whether Haselden’s appointment will result in a transformative culture remains to be seen, but it’s certainly shown that business media mainstays like Away are not as impervious as once thought. It has also empowered workers by demonstrating that if elements of your work culture are toxic, you can speak up or share that information with a reporter, who might catalyze a national conversation around the issue.
Consider these events a warning shot. Modern media is sending a message to the broken companies of today: Fix your problems of your own accord, or we may empower a dialogue that requires your attention.
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