Examples of Organizations and CEOs Canceled for Their Words and Actions
I have previously blogged about a variety of issues related to the cancel culture including its characteristics, harms and benefits, relationship to being woke and other topics. In today’s blog I examine how the cancel culture has affected the workplace.
The cancel culture has affected the workplace in several ways. Those who cancel companies for their actions, or words of top management, believe it’s a form of exercising capitalism. There are many such examples that I will address. Another feature is that some employers might monitor the social media postings of employees both during the work hours and on personal time. An employer might find an employee’s posting to be out of line and cancel them as a result.
MLB All Star Game
One example of the cancel culture at work is the moving of the 2021 Major League Baseball (MLB) All Start game from Atlanta to Denver because of a new voting law adopted by the Georgia legislature that appears to restrict voting rights of groups such as black Americans. It was an act of punishment by MLB fueled by the cancel culture that objected to what they perceived to be harmful restrictions on voting rights that would make voting harder. It had been estimated that the state could suffer an economic loss as great as $100 million due to the relocation.
The response of Georgia-based companies like Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines quickly changed from an initial lukewarm endorsement of the bill to coming out against after meeting with leaders of the black community. The change in position may have been motivated by threats to boycott the companies by being called out on social media. It is an example of using capitalism to voice concerns about one group and threatening to cancel them through a boycott.
The question was also raised whether these corporations would end corporate contributions to the politicians who created the law. If not, they might face a boycott of their products that hit them where it hurts.
Stacey Abrams, former Georgia House of Representatives, make a good point when she took a position against the cancel culture by pointing out the boycotts do not just hurt companies, they hurt people who work for them as well.
Back in 2020, Goya Foods CEO, Robert Unanue, participated in the White House’s signing of an executive order, the Hispanic Prosperity Initiative, aimed at finding ways to help the Hispanic community navigate the Covid-19 pandemic. Unanue announced that Goya would “denote one million cans of chickpeas and another million pounds of food-to-food banks throughout the country.” Sounds like a praiseworthy gesture. But Unanue showed his appreciation for President Donald Trump’s initiative with the following statement: “We are truly blessed…to have a leader like President Trump who is a builder. And we pray. We pray for our leadership, our president, and we pray for our country, that we will continue to prosper and grow.”
Those offended by the statement in support of Trump took to social media and posted comments criticizing Unanue and Goya Foods. Their motivation was to withdraw support for Goya food products because of Unanue’s statement of support for Trump. Campaigns on social media gained traction including #Goyaway and #BoycottGoya. Unanue told Fox News that he won’t apologize for praising Trump and insisted the boycott amounts to “suppression of speech.” The question of whether it was a suppression of free speech will be addressed later in this chapter.
The cancel culture sought to cause direct harm to the market position and revenues of Goya Foods, a company that employees more than 4,000 employees worldwide. We do need to recognize, however, that there are other explanations such as it was simply the marketplace’s reaction to Unanue’s statement and taking its business elsewhere, an expression of capitalism. So, the issues are not black or white but fall into the gray area, which is why motivation is important in characterizing the cancel culture.
The Goya example and Unanue’s comments supporting Trump are instructive because they raise the important question of whether being accountable and accepting the consequences of offensive behavior should be enough for the cancel culture to back off. After all, doesn’t the First Amendment guarantee of free speech provide a cover for such comments and form of protection against the cancel culture?
Mike Lindell: “My Pillow” Guy
In some cases, a company is canceled because of the words of its CEO. One such example is when the “My Pillow” guy, Mike Lindell, made supporting comments during the time that former President Donald Trump was claiming the election was stolen from him. Many took offense to Lindell’s comments claiming an ethical blindness to what most believed was fake news on the part of the Trump team.
Lindell was a victim of the woke culture infiltrating all aspects of society. As people become aware of social and political issues that they find objectionable, they may lash out and cancel the offending party.
Lindell was clearly hurt by the reaction to his comments and the affect of the cancel culture on his business. Lindell said his company was ditched by nearly 20 retailers after he publicly supported Trump. Lindell was also banned by Twitter.
One of the freedoms of the capitalist system is getting to vote with your wallet by boycotting a company for its offensive comments or actions. In that sense, it was not the cancel culture at work but the exercise of free market capitalism. However, the end goal was the same: to call out a company and cause harm to its brand.
Cancelling Employees in the Workplace
Thomson Reuters reports that there have been numerous examples of employees either being reprimanded or fired for actions outside of the workplace that are out of line with company standards. In the financial industry, for example, Amy Cooper, an employee of investment firm Franklin Templeton, was fired after she accused a Black man of threatening her life in New York’s Central Park. Cooper, who was later charged with filing a false police report, said she was threatened by the man after he asked her to leash her dog.
Outside of financial industry, there have been numerous cases at colleges, universities, and media organizations. The perceived polarizing impact on free expression led 150 prominent writers and scholars to write an open letter in the July issue of Harper’s magazine, condemning a growing culture of intolerance and public shaming.
All of this has emerged as the boundaries between an employees’ private and work lives have become more blurred. Social media has contributed to an environment where companies can now monitor much of what employees say and do around the clock. Some argue that such monitoring has gone too far.
What is the Answer?
Is there a solution to the cancel culture problem? I’m becoming more pessimistic day by day. It is a sign of the times that people take to social media to express their outrage. The ease of doing so and ability to draw followers facilitates the cancelling of companies. There no longer seems to be any tolerance for alternative views. There does not seem to be an appetite to discuss those differences in a productive way. The cancel culture has taken over the psyche of the American public and is crushing civility along the way.
Posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on June 16, 2021. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.