Business and Sustainability

Corporate Political Responsibility Taskforce

A framework for engagement and support

Increasingly, business leaders are stepping forward to help solve the crises facing society. The intersecting catastrophes of 2020 highlight the need for well-functioning institutions and an economy where financial performance translates into long-term human well-being. In response, companies have made bold commitments to support positive systemic change, focusing largely on voluntary measures such as internal people practices, supply chain policies, charitable contributions, community outreach and public communications.

Though many companies paused their political contributions following the January 6 Capitol attacks, most firms have not fully integrated “corporate political responsibility” (CPR) into their strategies for acting on these commitments. Every systemic issue depends on sensible, stable public policy and business is being called to support Sustainable Development Goals 16 and 17 (including effective, accountable and inclusive institutions and partnership). In addition, leaders are being challenged to ensure their corporate political activities (CPA) are not part of the problem, as business account for roughly 62% of all political contributions and 87% of disclosed federal lobbying expenditures.

Unfortunately, many executives operate without an integrated view of their firms’ engagement with governing or electoral processes, or clear principles to ensure transparency, accountability and responsibility. As we have seen in 2020, in an environment of polarization and distrust, inattention to CPR can increase reputational risk, destabilize the civic and business environment, threaten the credibility of other efforts and undermine the positive systemic changes society needs.

To help companies respond to this challenge quickly, the Erb Institute has convened a Corporate Political Responsibility Taskforce (CPRT) that leverages the Institute’s unique capabilities.

The Taskforce

As the business sustainability hub at the University of Michigan, the Erb Institute is uniquely positioned to serve as Secretariat for the CPRT.

Not only does the institute provide coordination, facilitation and project management support, but our staff and faculty are able to tap a network of experts, research and advisory resources from across U-M’s 19 schools and colleges, as well as from Erb’s own global network of universities, research institutes, business partners and nonprofit alliances. 

Objectives:

The CPRT is intended to help firms effectively manage the following risks and concerns related to their corporate political activities:

  • Rising Reputational Risk: Potential damage to brand, employee engagement, customer purchases or share price due to political activity in a polarized, hyper-partisan environment
  • Ballooning Requests to Engage: Lack of clarity about where to legitimately engage, and potential for overload in responding to complex issues beyond the firm’s area of expertise
  • Escalating Pressure: Growing need to use political levers to defend or advance company interests, fueling an unstable “arms race” for influence and distraction from the core business
  • Increasingly Visible Systemic Risks: Alarm over threats to foundational institutions and concerns that urgent systemic issues will not be addressed quickly or at sufficient scale with current approaches to corporate political activity

Taskforce Leadership

Elizabeth Doty is the Director of the Corporate Political Responsibility Taskforce at The Erb Institute. She is a former lab fellow of Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, and an adjunct professor at Presidio Graduate School of Business. For 27 years, Elizabeth has led Leadership Momentum, a consultancy that has helped clients in over a dozen industries clarify their values and build cultures of commitment, collaboration and action.

Elizabeth was recognized as a National Thought Leader in Trust by Trust Across America in 2016 and 2017. Elizabeth earned her MBA from Harvard Business School in 1991 and writes regularly for strategy + business magazine.

Upcoming Events

Please join us for more discussion on these topics at the following upcoming events:

Corporate Political Responsibility: What is business’ role in restoring trusted, well-functioning representative government? | a conversation with Paul Polman, MaryAnne Howland & the Corporate Political Responsibility Taskforce
Wed, April 21 @ 10-11:15 EDT

Paul Polman Co-founder and Co-Chair of IMAGINE, Vice-Chair UN Global Compact, and former CEO Unilever 2009-2018.
MaryAnne Howland Chair of the Race and Equity Working Group of the American Sustainable Business Council (and Co-Chair of ASBC) Founder of the Global Diversity Leadership Exchange (hosting events with the U.N. Global Compact), and Founder of Ibis Communications.

The Corporate Political Responsibility Taskforce provides forums, foresight and frameworks to help companies better align their political influences with their commitments to values, purpose, sustainability and stakeholders. The CPRT’s 2021 Foundational Webinar Series offers interactive dialogues designed for sustainability, brand, DEI, and government affairs professionals to engage with experts, stakeholder advocates, network partners and peers to explore how CPR applies to a range of pressing issues.

The dialogue will be moderated by CPRT Director, Elizabeth Doty, Erb Institute Faculty Director Tom Lyon, and Erb Managing Director Terry Nelidov.

For more information, contact: Elizabeth Doty, Director, Erb Institute CPRT, dotye@umich.edu

Corporate Political Responsibility in a World on Fire:
Aligning on a Firm-wide Approach for Proactive & Principled Engagement
Wed, Mar 3 @ 1PM ET | Webinar

Tom Lyon, Faculty Director of the Erb Institute, and lead author of CSR Needs CPR: Corporations, Politics and Sustainability (California Management Review’s Best Article 2019)
Rebecca Henderson, John and Natty McArthur University Professor at Harvard and author of Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire (McKinsey Business Book of the Year 2020)
Bruce Freed, President & Cofounder, The Center for Political Accountability and developer of the new CPA-Wharton Zicklin Model Code of Conduct for Corporate Political Spending

This interactive dialogue is designed for sustainability, brand, DEI, and government affairs professionals interested in exploring: What should firms be thinking about, as they consider their political engagements in 2021 and beyond? How can companies better align the full range of their political activities with their values, purposes and commitments to sustainability and stakeholders? What does it mean to practice transparency, accountability and responsibility at a firm-wide level? Elizabeth Doty, Director of the Corporate Political Responsibility Taskforce, and Terry Nelidov, Managing Director of the Erb Institute will moderate the discussion.

We will explore the personal integrity challenges faced by CSOs, CMOs, and other staff in confronting potential contradictions in their firms’ activities; and the internal and external influence skills needed to help their organization sustain integrity, trust, and impact.

Future 500 CAN Briefing: Corporate Political Responsibility
Fri, Feb 26 @ 10AM PT | Webinar
Future 500 is partnering with the Erb Institute’s Corporate Political Responsibility Taskforce, Business for America, and In This Together for a cross-sectoral, cross-functional exploration of corporate political responsibility and transparency in 2021 and beyond.

partner with us

Contact Elizabeth Doty
Erb Institute Taskforce Director