Four Business Resolutions for 2018
Make Change Staff
From coming clean on plastics to cleaning up disgusting online content, we have some ideas for companies’ New Year’s resolutions.
Make YouTube—and the Rest of the Web—Safer For Kids.
If you have young kids, odds are someone has recently forwarded you an article on the disturbing or exploitative child-related content floating around YouTube these days. A viral November Medium post by writer and artist James Bridle, titled “Something is Wrong on the Internet,” outlined the unsettling videos cued up by YouTube’s autoplay function when watching kids’ clips: Bridle found algorithmically generated videos, which hashed together terms, music, and characters from other popular children’s content into gross, violent, or just plain unpleasant combinations. There was more insidious material, like a video of cartoon swine Peppa Pig drinking bleach. Not to mention depictions of real kids in distressing, sexualized, or disgusting scenarios on channels maintained and monetized by their own parents, which Buzzfeed and other news outlets have also picked up on.
Advertisers have pulled out of their relationships with YouTube after finding their ads playing before such upsetting content—including some videos of kids that were apparently being watched, and commented on, by pedophiles. Over the last month, YouTube has begun trying to deal with the problem, deleting some videos, turning off ads on others, and looking into how their autoplay and other algorithmic elements contribute to the situation.
As web platforms like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter increasingly become the main source of content for people’s everyday needs—from local news to toddler-pleasing garbage truck videos—Silicon Valley’s aversion to regulation, whether it be companies policing their own platforms or the government doing it for them, must be reconsidered. While YouTube is home to a world of fun and educational material, the lure of ad money generated by successful children’s content has drawn uncaring opportunists, unintended consequences, and outright malicious actors. And an all-purpose “buyer beware” isn’t enough—it’s up to YouTube to keep children safe from predators, disturbing content, or exploitation. From within the thick of it, it’s difficult to gauge how digital life is changing people and societies, but as the weird and awful externalities mount, it’s increasingly clear that, especially when it comes to kids, the tech industry’s “move-fast-and-break-things” ethos just isn’t good enough anymore. —Jed Oelbaum
Get Real About Racial Equity.
Not only is racial equity unequivocally good for society, it has economy-boosting potential far greater than a hefty corporate tax cut.
That was the message delivered loud and clear by panelists discussing the business case for racial equity at 2017’s SOCAP conference, an industry event for social enterprises and impact investors. Panelists like Howard Walters, the Program and Evaluations Officer at W.K. Kellogg Foundation, highlighted the pervasive wage gap between blacks, Latinos, and their white counterparts (depending on sex, ethnicity, and race, a person of color earns on average between 58 and 73 percent what a white man would), and theorized that could equate to trillions in missed GDP, a claim that has support when looking at the gender wage gap.
According to panelist Jacinta Gauda, by 2050, more than half of the U.S. workforce will be people of color. Should these pay gaps continue at their current rate, the missed wealth could equal as much as $8 trillion in missed GDP, she said. “Beyond the social justice imperative, [racial equity] will help meet America’s challenges of competitiveness and growth,” said Gauda. Panelist Ani Turner, an economist, analyst, and co-director of non-profit health consultancy Altarum, echoed that, saying, “Striving for a world where opportunity is available to all is not only a matter of social justice, but also a catalyst for economic opportunity.”
To make progress in educational attainment and job opportunities for people of color, businesses must support policies that improve minorities’ access to affordable housing, reliable transportation, high-quality public education, and comprehensive healthcare. And some business leaders may choose to make private funding available where public policy is lagging.
As far as the what corporations can do within their organizations, that can mean investing in talent early by reducing systemic barriers to employment and connecting youth to relevant job skills to combat the oft-used “pipeline” excuse. It can mean getting serious about inclusion initiatives to retain those employees once they’ve been hired. And of course, it means closing the pay gap for people of color, particularly women, who have the added burden of a gender wage gap. By doing this, businesses can not only create a more diverse and opportunity-filled corporate culture, but contribute to a healthier economy overall. —Liz Biscevic
Companies Need to Be More Transparent About “Sustainable Plastics.”
Once upon a time, companies wished for a cheap, malleable material that could show off vibrant colors and would never fall apart, and the monkey’s paw of science gave them plastic. Now we’re drowning in castoff shopping bags, toys, and bottles that taint water, pollute cities, and will basically never decompose. Disposing of the stuff isn’t the only issue either; the plastics industry uses a lot of oil, making it a significant contributor to the effects of climate change.
Thankfully, consumers and companies have become increasingly aware of plastics’ detrimental environmental impacts. But as manufacturers work to please today’s socially conscious customers by ditching petroleum-based plastics, many have touted bioplastics—materials made from plants, like wheat or corn—as a sustainable solution. Unfortunately, bioplastics are, at best, a partial answer.
Replacing petroleum with renewable resources like plants certainly seems like a cool way to do something about our plastic woes. Except while bioplastics cut out oil, the current fabrication process turns out products that still won’t easily break down on their own. Even bioplastics marketed as biodegradable or compostable will usually only break down safely in the heat of an industrial composter. While researching toy behemoth Lego's approach to the problem earlier this year, I spoke with plastics expert David Tyler, whose research has also shown the water, fertilizers, and pesticides required to grow crops for bioplastic can be just as environmentally consequential as manufacturing petroleum-based plastic, making the whole thing a wash.
If their leaders know better, companies utilizing bioplastics for their products and packaging aren’t being straightforward. Many consumers who buy bioplastic products think their purchases, made from innocuous-sounding plant matter, are significantly better for the environment and will eventually biodegrade naturally. In effect, this greenwashing misleads customers about the impact of the products and companies they patronize. In 2018, businesses should offer bioplastics on their real, if more complicated merits—a stopgap measure for moving away from petroleum, an exciting new field with serious kinks to be worked out, and an important step on the way to truly sustainable plastics. —Jed Oelbaum
Donate More Aid to “Silent Disasters.”
Just over a week after Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas, corporations had already collectively marshalled more than $157 million in donations. After Hurricane Irma subsequently hit Florida, corporate aid in the wake of both disasters topped $271 million. But for Hurricane Maria, which knocked out power and other infrastructure for months in some parts of Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands, corporations had given about $33 million almost two weeks after the storm hit.
With its lingering aftereffects and comparatively paltry relief aid, Maria seems destined to become a “silent disaster,” where its victims are ignored or forgotten due to a fast-moving news cycle, remote location, difficult political situation, and/or impoverished citizenry. According to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, more than 90 percent of disasters around the world are silent, rarely making international headlines, or if they do, disappearing quickly or without generating worldwide sympathy and support, including from corporate donors.
In 2017, famine continued to threaten South Sudan and Yemen, as millions starved amid crushing poverty, drought, and violence due to years of civil unrest. An epic monsoon season killed more than 1,200 people and affected some 41 million inhabitants of Bangladesh, India, and Nepal. Madagascar, just recovering from an El Nino-related drought in 2016 that left the country on the brink of famine, grappled with an outbreak of the plague that killed 207. Mudslides in Colombia and Sierra Leone killed hundreds.
The list of these life-threatening events goes on, and their recognition on the international business stage matters, because as natural and health disasters increase in frequency and cost, corporations are increasingly becoming a key player in relief efforts. While it’s obvious that a grocery store chain headquartered in and serving Texas would be instrumental in aiding Harvey’s victims, in times of distress, multinational corporations claiming to feed, clothe, and connect the world should focus as much on their millions of global customers and supply chain vendors in need as they do on their communities closer to home. —Callie Enlow