In a Forbes Q&A article, author and Cambridge University Professor Christopher Marquis talks with Elizabeth Doty and Tom Lyon about the Erb Institute Principles for Corporate Political Responsibility and how they help provide a framework for business leaders seeking alignment between their political actions and company commitments.
In an era of rising corporate political spending, companies also face growing expectations from customers, workers, and other stakeholders to align their policy influence and actions with their corporate values and commitments. As they navigate this ever-changing landscape, some business leaders are reconsidering when and how they should engage on questions of policy.
As author and academic Christopher Marquis notes in a recent Forbes article, these corporate leaders are caught in a “pay-to-play system where high-dollar donors influence policy decisions that may benefit their bottom line but harm the planet or society at large.” As part of his study of the ways businesses are helping to create more resilient and sustainable capitalism, Marquis shared highlights from a discussion with Elizabeth Doty and Tom Lyon of the Erb Institute’s Corporate Political Responsibility Taskforce about a new framework for businesses seeking to align their words, actions, and commitments to stakeholders.
“The Erb Principles for CPR are the first output of the Institute’s Corporate Political Responsibility Taskforce,” Doty said. “We convened the taskforce amidst the crises in early 2021 with two goals: to help companies better align their approach to political influence with their purpose, values, and commitments, and to help establish CPR as a shared norm.”
For more than a year, the CPRT worked with executives in government affairs, sustainability, DEI, communications, and board governance roles — plus a broad network of stakeholders and experts — to develop the Erb Principles for CPR. “Clearly, companies will not and should not weigh in on every issue. They need to be responsible with the use of their incredible power and influence,” Doty said, noting that the Erb Principles for CPR help prompt them through a thought process based on questions of legitimacy, accountability, responsibility, and transparency.
Lyon pointed to four factors that distinguish the Erb Principles for CPR: They are pragmatic and workable; take a “third side” view that allows for debate; include action; and approach CPR as a journey. “This is difficult territory involving judgment and learning over time. It’s taken a long time to get here, and it will take a long time to get back to that trust and to systemic solutions,” he said. “The Principles can provide the focal point for more constructive dialogue.”
Through the collaborative development process, Doty said the CPRT confirmed a need for a non-partisan, principled thought process to help business leaders weigh whether and how to engage in civic and political affairs. “The process does not prescribe specific policy positions but helps companies be responsible in ways that are specific to them,” she said. “That said, the Principles are not agnostic about American constitutional democracy, competitive markets, informed civil discourse, or avoiding harm. These are areas that companies feel they can stand on and appeal to the concerns of many, many American citizens.”