You are a company leader. You’re getting ready for work. You turn on the television and see the name of your company blasted all over the news. You discover that there is a group that is very publicly advocating for a change in the company’s policies, or worse, you find out they want the company to close down altogether. You’re stunned. It’s your worst nightmare to see your company’s name dragged through the mud.
What can you do? You fear the answer is nothing.
Thankfully, that’s not the case. There are some steps that companies can take to respond to actions such as this, and that includes properly responding to what is called a “corporate campaign.”
What is a Corporate Campaign
A corporate campaign begins when enough people are motivated by some issue or action that the company has taken and these individuals attempt to force the company to change their position or correct what they did. A corporate campaign may or may not involve employees. It may involve stockholders, students, members of the community where the business is located, a union, customers, or even people with no relation to the company.
An example of this would be a university that has students asking it to divest from Israeli companies or companies that do business in Israel (see examples here and here. You may notice that the articles have very different views on the same event. Strong opinions on both sides are often present in corporate campaigns as they tend to focus on a hot-button issue.).
A corporate campaign is different than a union campaign (you can read about those here). A union campaign has the goal of having the employees at the facility unionize. Sometimes, but not always, a union may use tactics from a corporate campaign to boost their own union organizing at a company.
What Issues May be the Subject of the Corporate Campaign
While a corporate campaign can be about any particular issue, the most likely issues to initiate a corporate campaign are similar to those in a union campaign.
The most common issues of a corporate campaign are:
- Higher wages
- Improved safety
- Gender wage gap issues
- Diversity issues
- Environmental issues
- Investments in a particular country
- Members of the community not wanting a business of that type in the community (e.g. opening a prison or a garbage dump near/in a community)
- Accusations of monopoly
- A union organizing drive
- Urging the company to take a stance on a particular political issue
- Ethical issues (e.g. the treatment of animals at a food processing facility)
- Job related issues (e.g. accusations that the company is sending jobs overseas or closing a facility)
What A Corporate Campaign May Look Like
The main goal of a corporate campaign is to get the company to change or adopt a particular position or policy. Whoever is running the corporate campaign will use whatever means they can to put pressure on the company to increase the chances that the campaign is successful.
There are a number of strategies that the organizers may employ to conduct the corporate campaign such as:
- Passing out fliers in the parking lot or in front of the building
- Protesting or holding signs in front of the building
- Employees going on strike
- Seeking to get media coverage of the campaign
- Starting a Facebook group, Instagram page, Twitter handle, or a podcast to release information about the company and to target them online
- Letter or email bombing the company by sending a tsunami of emails or letters to the company
- Contacting members of the Board of the company
- Protesting outside the homes of members of the company’s board or executive team
- Going to shareholder meetings and requesting a vote on an issue
- Filing charges through the National Labor Relations Board
- Making accusations against the company anonymously and/or against anonymous employees of the company (these are obviously difficult to disprove)
- Trying to get hired by the company to report about it or try to take actions against the company from the inside (this is called salting)
- Seeking out community leaders to address the issue and the company. These can include politicians, celebrities, religious leaders, and other people with influence.
- Filing administrative claims with OSHA, wage and hour claims, discrimination claims, and other claims
- Sharing content about the company online, in emails, and other mediums to shareholders, employees, customers, and members of the general public
The main goal of all of these tactics are to change the direction of the company and get them to adopt certain policies.
Is There Any Way to Prevent Being a Target
Attempting to prevent a corporate campaign is key. The best thing that could happen to you as a company regarding corporate campaigns is to never become the target of one in the first place. There are many companies that will never experience this such as small companies or companies in non-controversial industries.
There are a few ways that companies can lessen the likelihood that they will become a target of a campaign. The main goal of these efforts is to ensure that the company is in compliance with the law and employees are happy. You can do this by:
- Seeking feedback from employees
- Hold town halls to hear and address employee complaints and concerns (quarterly or monthly meetings with all employees in one meeting or holding enough meetings so that all employees can attend).
- Have meetings with representatives from different areas of the facility if the business is too large to have meetings with large numbers of employees. These representatives should seek input from their coworkers so that they can bring any issues to management.
- Conduct stay and exit interviews. Stay interviews are annual interviews with employees to get feedback from them, discuss what they are doing well, and what can be done better. Exit interviews are meetings with employees that are leaving and can be used to determine where the company can improve.
- Have a suggestion box.
- Make sure that you have an open-door policy.
- Encourage managers and members of the HR team to walk the floor and interact with employees on a daily basis.
- Have a complaint procedure that allows employees to report problems to multiple members of management and escalate as appropriate
- Providing professional development training for managers on a variety of topics. You can read about the suggested topics on my post: How to Train Your Supervisor. Managers are often a source of potential lawsuits for companies either because of their failure to act or acting in the wrong way in a given situation. It is cheaper to train a manager than it is to defend a lawsuit. It also makes your company a better place to work.
- Conduct wage audits to determine whether your wage rates are competitive (i.e. fair) and you are not engaging in disparate treatment of any protected group (i.e. no group of employees in any protected class (e.g. gender, age, race, etc.) is being paid less than other employees in the same job, with the same experience, and other relevant factors).
- Keep good relations with the stakeholders in the company and members of the community.
- Conduct anti-harassment and bystander training for employees so that they can address situations if no manager is involved in the incident.
- Conduct safety audits of the facility to ensure that the employees are safe. You can read more about how to do this in my article on how to improve workplace safety.
What to Do Once a Corporate Campaign Begins
Unfortunately, sometimes even with taking these precautions a corporate campaign will take place. Large companies are much more likely to be pressured and consider making changes due to a corporate campaign due to their public exposure. In a similar way, you will see corporate campaigns a lot more frequently in controversial industries. After the company becomes aware of a campaign, a company needs to act quickly.
There are a number of things a company may need to do in a campaign. Determining what to do in a campaign requires examining the extent of the campaign, the weaknesses of the company, and the particular issues that are being raised by the group.
There are a few steps that apply in any campaign:
- Continue meeting with employees to address issues that they may raise.
- Ensure that confidential materials, such as contact information for the executive team and board members, are secure on company devices and shared files.
- Develop a team, which may include outside help, to determine how to best address and respond to issues that the group raises.
- Continue to maintain good relations with members of the community, the board if any exists, employees, and other stakeholders.
- Assess the weak points that are present in the company, which may include supervisors, policies that need changes, or other issues.
- Work to resolve the issues that are being raised to the extent that they should be resolved. This will depend on the issues that are being raised and the appropriateness of correcting them during the campaign. If a union is involved, then the company may not be able to make changes without violating the National Labor Relations Act even if the company was not aware of the issue before the campaign began. You can read more about responding to union organizing here.
Companies must address the specific problems of the campaign and develop a well-tailored plan to resolve the problems raised by the campaign.
Corporate campaigns are difficult to respond to. They can focus on any particular issue and arise unexpectedly. Companies, especially public companies, need to be prepared to respond to a potential corporate campaign. Again, being proactive and acting to prevent one from occuring in the first place is your best route as a company. If this is not possible, then the company should make a plan soon after a campaign begins.
The information provided in this blog is for educational purposes only and is not legal advice. If you need legal advice, then you should speak with a lawyer about your specific issues. Every legal issue is unique. A lawyer can help you with your situation. Reading the blog, contacting me through the site, emailing me or commenting on a post does not create an attorney-client relationship between any reader and me.
The information provided is my own and does not reflect the opinion of my firm or anyone else.