The corporate social responsibility (CSR) movement, which was viewed as an outlier just a few decades ago, has evolved to become a foundational driver of company revenue, brand reputation, and investment value.

While it may feel easy to dismiss the phrase “purpose-driven organization” as corporate jargon, statistics show that a company’s sustainability efforts can be directly linked to stronger business outcomes. Companies are making a conscious shift toward accountability to all stakeholders–not just shareholders, and choosing, in some cases, to put purpose, people, and the planet before profit.

CEOs work to generate profits and return value to shareholders, but the best-run companies do more.

In 2019, 181 chief executives signed the Business Roundtable’s landmark statement redefining the role of a corporation. “CEOs work to generate profits and return value to shareholders, but the best-run companies do more,” the statement read. “They put the customer first and invest in their employees and communities.”

Fast-forward three years to the beginning of 2022 when BlackRock CEO Larry Fink stated that stakeholder capitalism will be a powerful force in propelling the sustainability agenda forward. “It is through effective stakeholder capitalism that capital is efficiently allocated, companies achieve durable profitability, and value is created and sustained over the long term,” Fink stated.

Holding true to these sentiments, stakeholders and company leaders played a key role in addressing important social issues like hate speech, climate change, and employee well-being within companies last year. Here’s a look back at four pivotal CSR moments in 2022.

1. Adidas Cuts Ties With Kanye West After Antisemitic Remarks 

Last fall, Kanye West — also known as Ye — publicly voiced conspiratorial, offensive, antisemitic remarks in a Fox interview. Among other claims, West said that Jews are Black people and, in turn, he himself is Jewish and stated that Planned Parenthood was created by the KKK and Margaret Sanger to control the Jewish (meaning Black) population. The next day, his post-interview tweet (which has since been deleted) referred to going “death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE,” igniting his dangerous rhetoric into a large-scale controversy that many worried would advance the spread of false and antisemitic narratives shared by extremist groups.

A few days later, West pushed his antisemitism agenda even further in an interview with Chris Cuomo on NewsNation, criticizing the “Jewish underground media mafia” and alleging that “every celebrity has Jewish people in their contract.” He claimed that his life was threatened by his Jewish managers, lawyer, and accountant due to his political beliefs. West also defended his remarks, saying “[Black people] are Semite, we Jew, so I can’t be antisemite.”

Caught in the crossfire of West’s remarks were the companies doing business with the rapper-entrepreneur. West’s commentary left companies with a social responsibility decision — would they continue to partner with a public figure spouting antisemitic remarks?

Many companies quickly canceled their support of West, including Christie’s, TJ Maxx, Home Goods and Marshalls, Foot Locker, CAA, MRC, JP Morgan Chase, Balenciaga, and Gap. However, Adidas was the business that received the most criticism and attention from the public.

While other companies lined up to end their partnership with West in the first two weeks of the controversy, Adidas was silent. Even in the face of West’s direct jabs when he told a podcaster “I can say antisemitic s*** and Adidas can’t drop me,” Adidas remained quiet. The tricky, problematic catch to all of this? The Adidas company founder was a member of the Nazi Party and supported the Hitler Youth movement. This historical fact made the company’s silence deafening in the wake of West’s unrepentant antisemitic remarks.

Ultimately, Adidas announced it had ended its partnership with West and would be discontinuing the Yeezy product line. “We cannot support any content that amplifies his platform,” the executives wrote in a joint memo.

What did it cost the company? An Adidas spokesperson had previously said that its partnership with Yeezy “is one of the most successful collaborations in our industry’s history.” Yeezy generated an estimated $1.7 billion in annual revenues for Adidas or 8% of its 2021 total. Adidas expected to lose up to $246 million in profit by the end of the year after cutting ties with West and as of December, the company was stuck with $500 million of unsold products.

How accountable are businesses for the bias and hate speech that their customers, partners, workers, or — in the case of social media companies — brand ambassadors promote?

This event raised new questions about social responsibility when it severely undercuts profits and investor returns. How accountable are businesses for the bias and hate speech that their customers, partners, workers, or — in the case of social media companies — brand ambassadors promote? The answer to this question will continue to unfold as corporate social responsibility matures and stakeholder capitalism takes a deeper root within businesses.

2. Disney Takes A Stands Against the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill

The Walt Disney Company (TWDC) took a political stand last year when the company publicly spoke out against Florida’s Parental Rights In Education — or so-called “Don’t Say Gay” — bill passed by Florida’s House and Senate.

However, the company’s public opposition to the new law came after CEO Bob Chapek was criticized by employees for not speaking out and taking a more aggressive stand against HB 1557 ahead of the bill passing through the Florida Senate.

Disney employees shared their outrage on social media, staged a walkout, and wrote an open letter to Disney leadership stating, “The recent statements by TWDC leadership regarding the Florida legislature’s recent ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill have utterly failed to match the magnitude of the threat to LGBTQIA+ safety represented by this legislation.”

Chapek issued an apology to employees stating he “missed the mark” and referred to himself as an ally to the LGBTQ+ community. He also stated TWDC was “increasing our support for advocacy groups to combat similar legislation in other states. We are hard at work creating a new framework for our political giving that will ensure our advocacy better reflects our values. And today, we are pausing all political donations in the state of Florida pending this review.”

This increase in support included a commitment to donate $5 million to organizations that work to protect LGTBQ+ rights and the setup of town halls between company executives and employees to discuss how TWDC leadership could better serve this community in the future.

The company also issued a formal statement that read, “Florida’s HB 1557, also known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, should never have passed and should never have been signed into law. Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that. We are dedicated to standing up for the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ members of the Disney family, as well as the LGBTQ+ community in Florida and across the country.”

“We are dedicated to standing up for the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ members of the Disney family, as well as the LGBTQ+ community in Florida and across the country.”

However, the decision didn’t come without consequences. In response, Governor Ron DeSantis signed legislation targeted to end Disney’s self-governing status as a special district that has granted TWDC privileges like the ability to build its own structures without seeking approval from a local planning commission and collect taxes and issue bonds since the 1960s.

Chapek joined the ranks of leading CEOs who are supporting progressive positions on a range of social and political issues such as immigration, Black Lives Matter, and transgender identity to address stakeholder demand for social reform. Ultimately, this debacle demonstrated the growing legitimacy and power held by employees within today’s corporate society.

3. Patagonia Founder Donates His Company to the Planet

Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard, set a new bar in environmental corporate leadership last year when he announced, “Earth is now our only shareholder.” Instead of selling the company or taking it public, Chouinard, whose company is worth US$3 billion, said he is “going purpose” and using his wealth to fight the climate crisis.

Earth is now our only shareholder.

In his public statement, Chouinard explained that 100% of the company’s voting stock would be transferred to the Patagonia Purpose Trust, which would oversee the company’s mission and values, while 100% of the company’s nonvoting stock would go to a non-profit called the Holdfast Collective, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting the environmental crisis and defending nature.

Patagonia has been a leader in corporate social responsibility for nearly 50 years. The company dedicated itself to using materials in its products that caused less harm to the environment. Patagonia also became a certified B Corp and a California benefit corporation, writing its values into a corporate charter so they would be preserved. In 2018, Patagonia changed the company’s purpose to “We’re in business to save our home planet.”

The move garnered positive support on social media where many praised the move as a true act of brand purpose. These positive reactions signal a fundamental shift in corporate responsibility and demonstrate the rising expectation that profit and purpose go hand-in-hand.

4. In Corporations We Trust and Roe v. Wade

In an unprecedented 5–4 decision, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, eliminating the constitutional right to abortion after almost 50 years. The court’s controversial ruling gave individual states the power to set their own abortion laws and, as of the end of 2022, abortion was completely banned in at least 13 states.

Over 100 companies swiftly and publicly responded to the ruling in a variety of ways, and some viewed Roe v. Wade’s demise as a turning point for corporate America.

Companies like Uber and Tesla supported their employees by guaranteeing pay for anyone who needed to travel out of state to receive reproductive health treatments. Several companies including Apple, Citigroup, Salesforce, and Yelp spoke out or announced shifts in their benefits policies amid several state-led efforts aimed at restricting or banning abortion. Google offered its employees the opportunity to relocate to states where abortion is legal, while Patagonia and Live Nation stated they would cover bail costs for employees arrested in demonstrations against the Supreme Court decision.

Bumble’s CEO Whitney Wolfe said in a blog post, “when your ability to choose if, when, and how to have children is taken away, so is your bodily autonomy.” Wolfe also stated the dating app would continue supporting organizations committed to reproductive rights, including financial contributions to the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Considering this immensely important issue, the question, “What is the role of corporations in all this?” might seem trivial. In his article, Corporate Responsibilities after Roe v. Wade, author Kenneth Boyd raises an interesting question: What does it say about the functioning of democracy when corporations step in to help rectify a harmful and unpopular mistake made by the Supreme Court?

Enter Edelman’s 2022 Trust Barometer which found that employers are the institution that Americans trust most to do the right thing when it comes to social issues. In fact, the report found that 58% of stakeholders buy or advocate for brands based on their beliefs and values and 60% choose a place to work based on their beliefs and values. Businesses today are trusted the most in countries around the world — more than the media, governments, and even NGOs.

58% of stakeholders buy or advocate for brands based on their beliefs and values

Given these statistics, corporations can no longer avoid making critical decisions on how to support their employees and society at large, the actions they’ll take on political issues, and their role in protecting the planet.

Managing Society As A Key Stakeholder

How can a company manage its relationships with its workforce, support the communities in which it operates, and ethically oversee partners and supply chains all while meeting the needs of the consumer and investors? This is the central question behind corporate social responsibility.

Although socially responsible actions can be difficult to define and quantify, they have a significant impact on trust, confidence, inclusion, and successful stakeholder involvement. Ultimately, what 2022 confirmed is the definition of “value” is changing, and societal expectations are shifting toward a more holistic view of value that extends beyond short-term profit.