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Walmart’s Confederate flag stand signals new corporate activism

June 23, 2015, 11:52 AM UTC
Photograph by Daniel Aguilar — Getty Images

Walmart’s (WMT) quick decision to remove confederate flag themed products from its stores following the killings in South Carolina reflects a sea change in attitudes about business leadership.

Not long ago, the standard big company response to controversial social and political issues was to lay low and stay out of the line of fire. But the quick corporate backlash to the Indiana religious liberties law earlier this year marked a turning point. Increasingly, corporate leaders believe taking a stance on such issues is an important signal to both customers and employees, who want to do business with, or work for, a company that they believe is doing good in the world.

In our recent survey, we asked Fortune 500 CEOs which of the following statements best reflected their own philosophy:


As a CEO, it’s best to focus on issues that directly affect the bottom line, and avoid controversial public issues.


As a CEO, it’s important to take a stand on some public issues.


Just over half of the CEOs who responded – 52% – chose the second response, while 48% choose the first. This is the first year we’ve done the survey, so we can’t say how that’s changed over time. But my conversations with dozens of CEOs lead me to believe the response is significantly higher than we would have gotten as recently as a decade ago.

Some CEOs also say they also feel compelled to speak out on public issues because of the general failure of political leadership, as typified by the waffling among GOP candidates on the flag issue.

Have good day. And take a few minutes to read Jamie Dimon’s moving tribute to his colleague Jimmy Lee.

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