Apple and Disney under fire from anti-ESG activist
The anti-ESG movement in the United States saw another high-profile moment this week, as an activist and investor took aim at two of the world’s biggest companies.
The activist urged both the media giant Disney and tech company Apple to hold their tongues on ESG (environment, social and governance) issues.
The comments came from Columbus-based author, political commentator and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy (above), previously dubbed “one of the most compelling conservative voices” in America.
What is going on?
Ramaswamy recently wrote separate letters to Disney and Apple, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday. Between them, he argued two main points:
- Companies should not engage with gender-equity policies and should not factor in a person’s race, political background or sex when making hiring decisions.
- Companies should not comment on political decisions that “don’t affect their business”.
Is this big news?
For advocates of workplace and boardroom diversity, yes, this is a huge move.
Ramaswamy and Disney
“Disney must act now,” one of his letters said. “If Disney continues speaking out on political issues that do not affect its business, it will face even greater pressure to act when they do. And the sides Disney will be expected to take won’t be the ones that are favourable to its business.”
He referred to the corporation’s recent battle with the state of Florida, where it was a vocal opponent of the controversial “Don’t Say Gay Law”, prohibiting gender and sexuality instruction to younger school children.
Conservative Governor Ron DeSantis (also a vocal critic of ESG) signed into law a measure revoking Disney’s special governance privileges for the land it owns around Orlando, mainly in retaliation for the company’s stance.
Ramaswamy and Apple
Apple is planning an audit of its racial equity record after persistent pressure from civil rights activists and some investors. It will now take a deep dive into the influence of racial bias on the make-up of its workforce.
Ramaswamy wants Apple to make a complete u-turn; instead of seeking fairer representation among minority groups, he wants it to eliminate race, gender and other factors as valid influences on a hiring process.
Who is Vivek Ramaswamy?
He’s multiple things; an author, a conservative commentator, and a successful businessman.
He penned the 2021 book Woke, Inc.: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam, an instant New York Times bestseller. In it, he argued that “politics has no place in business” and dismissed most ESG efforts as firms trying to “sell us cheap social causes and skin-deep identities.”
The book also takes aim at Apple and Disney, among other corporations, who he claimed were happy to align their western PR with “woke” values while doing business with regimes in other parts of the world that have questionable human rights records.
Will his opinions matter?
Regardless of his records, it’s a big step for Ramaswamy to target companies as big as Apple and Disney and go directly against their ESG-oriented flow.
After his letters, a Disney spokesperson told WSJ the company receives a lot of shareholder input and that it “listens to their perspectives.”
Although not an open dismissal, it reads a lot like one, as if the company is saying Ramaswamy’s words are just one voice in an ocean of opinions and unlikely to make an anti-ESG impact.
So why is this big news?
It’s a part of a trend that governance professionals should keep a close eye on: the anti-ESG movement in the United States.
ESG is a huge topic for many organisations. In regions like Europe, ESG has been embraced, making it easier to miss a backlash elsewhere.
But that backlash exists, it’s present in the US more than anywhere else, and it’s one to watch.
Ramaswamy sings the same song as prominent politicians like Ron DeSantis or Texas Governor Gregg Abbott. Their anti-ESG stance is that it ultimately achieves little good, over-regulates the corporate landscape, and blocks maximum profits for corporations.
However, even corporations acknowledge that ‘no holds barred’ profit-making is not good for the environment, for people and for a sustainable future.