The influence of corporations on public and political life has been steadily increasing in the last three decades. Companies fight for tax breaks, favorable regulations, subsidies and government contracts — and the chilling effect it has on the independence of our politicians has rightly eroded public trust in them. On the opposite side of that coin, some companies have sought to throw the weight of their power behind humanitarian causes that greatly benefit society. Who is to define what is altruistic activity versus borderline corruption? As always, innovator Google has set a precedent in its fight for LGBT equality.
The tech giant this week announced the kick-off of its “Legalize Love” campaign, a worldwide effort to “promote safer conditions for gay and lesbian people inside and outside the office in countries with anti-gay laws on the books,” Google said in a written statement. The first two countries to be targeted are Singapore and Poland, which have differing cultural reasons for anti-LGBT laws.
Although it was originally rumored to also be a campaign to legalize gay marriage across the world, a company spokesman stated that the focus is on human rights and employment discrimination.
So, a company is using its massive resources to push for equality across the globe — what could be wrong with that? One of the biggest reasons our nation is in a state of paralysis, moving neither forward nor back, is that multinational corporations influence politics for their personal gain but to the detriment of society. Yet who among the LGBT community wouldn’t support Google’s valiant effort? Where exactly is the appropriate line between corporate influence that hurts the public interest and corporate power that makes the world a better place? That can be found in the details of “Legalize Love.”
Instead of donating millions of dollars to candidates who support gay rights — but may also stand for other issues that don’t align with Google’s philosophy — the company is developing alliances with local companies and supporting grassroots campaigns. These activities would include educational and outreach initiatives to inform the population about a culture that may be foreign to them. By working from the bottom up and not the top down, Google is setting a precedent for how a company can show benevolence in fighting for a social cause.
When a corporation directly effects the politics of a nation, the public is left out of the process. Whether the outcome is good or bad doesn’t really matter; that influence destroys democracy. Yet Google’s approach works the opposite way. Grassroots campaigns change minds at a personal level, allowing citizens to decide what is right and wrong, and take that knowledge to the voting booth. This is organic change versus mandated change. It may take a little longer, but it is the only way to have our cake and eat it too.
It’s easy for gays to say it’s alright for a company to donate money to a candidate who supports gay marriage. But would you say it’s okay for a company to donate money to a candidate who has promised favorable regulation for that industry? What if the pro-LGBT candidate is also the one receiving money from BP to allow dumping in Lake Michigan? You can’t have it both ways without sounding like a hypocrite.
For this reason, Google’s approach is best, and should be the only way a company is allowed to influence political issues. Public relations campaigns are less effective at immediate change than directly financing favorable candidates, but there are too many instances where the latter practice leads to corruption. We in Chicago should be especially keen to the affect that has. By changing the hearts and minds of the public instead of pressing elected officials for LGBT equality, Google has again proved itself an innovative vehicle for social evolution.