Whether due to the legacy of classical Greek philosophy or the influence of Augustinian Catholic thought that separated the commercial (profit-oriented) private sphere from collective decisions for the common good, many of us have become accustomed to dissociating political power and public definitions from the influences of the world. market.
This separation could have made sense at the time of the great empires, the construction of the national state and the processes of independence that challenged colonialism typical of the 20th century, when the authorities had the resources, capabilities and legitimacy to emerge as the almost exclusive source of well-being. national.
But nowadays, when corporations like Apple, Microsoft or Amazon each have a market value higher than the Brazilian, Russian, Canadian or Spanish GDP – all countries of the select and rich G20 – it is difficult to defend this division, as how to exempt the entrepreneurial vanguard from a more decisive role than the production of goods.
The growing attribution of capabilities and responsibilities to large companies for the fate of the societies in which they operate and their environmental, climatic, ethical and social consequences is part of a process of gradual recognition of the power and competence of corporations.
These potentialities do not just reflect a situation of parity or even superiority with conventional political institutions to generate and distribute impacts where they operate.
They also portray the perception of incapacity or lack of interest of traditional public power (government, state institutions, parties or parliament) to manage problems for which market agents (similar to others, such as organized civil society) project themselves as much more capable. to give satisfactory answers.
This explains the growing expectation of citizens for socially and environmentally responsible business behavior.
A study by the consultancy Market Analysis, together with the worldwide network of independent researchers WIN, which interviewed 33,230 people in 39 countries, reveals that seven out of ten adults in the world consider it extremely or very important to be aware and informed about the socio-environmental governance actions that big companies do.
In the main Latin American countries, such as Brazil, Mexico and Argentina, this proportion reaches 80% or more. Although to a lesser extent, Chileans and Colombians also surpass the global average in ranking knowledge about corporate performance in terms of sustainability.
But the importance of awareness goes beyond speculation in the abstract: just over six in ten adults worldwide admit that corporate social and environmental behavior shapes their purchase preferences or brand adherence.
Voting with the pocket book, electing the providers of products and services (companies) with the best ethical and sustainable credentials is known as “political consumption” and could be a transforming force capable of extending citizen action beyond the formal spheres of the polls, militancy party or street protest.
This would occur because the power and capacity of social and environmental influence of corporations requires influencing them where it is actually possible to shape their behavior: their financial health, their market share, their reputation among consumers and other “stakeholders”.
Favoring companies with citizen governance that respect the environment instead of poisoning it, or that expand the rights of their employees and share economic benefits among suppliers, over those that ignore good socio-environmental practices, contributes to building a more humane society, open and inclusive.
Why, then, does this new form of activism and construction of a progressive agenda not materialize in pushing for a new social order that extends good governance more massively?
The Market Analysis/WIN study also reveals the suspicions surrounding powerful political and business actors in the region, fueling paralysis where there could be opportunities for progressive mobilization.
In the 39 countries surveyed, only one in five people believe that most companies are serious about social responsibility and sustainability. Another 40% believe that, for the most part, companies seek to demonstrate governance; in short, pure marketing.
In Latin America, excluding Brazil –which, in addition to having a more complex corporate structure, has a tradition of strong and visible debates dedicated to the propagation and recognition of so-called corporate citizenship and ESG principles (socio-environmental governance)–, only 10% trust in the sustainable commitments of the business world (half the global average).
The current scenario, which combines strong expectations of corporate commitment to the common good on the part of citizens, plus their willingness to reward or punish companies due to their socio-environmental performance and low credibility in altruistic and pro-social behavior, represents a real challenge. .
On the one hand, this combination redefines and consolidates who are the new major players in the face of the challenges our countries face, materializing a change in expectations that important problems will be addressed to companies instead of concentrating all faith in traditional institutions of the politics and the state.
On the other hand, this situation generates a flow of pressure and demand, whose channeling is frustrated in the face of incredulity about the true corporate intentions.
The possibility that business activity is seen as opportunistic rather than genuine, as well as frustrations with the formal political system, can open the door to radicalized or anti-systemic expressions.
The disbelief in the possibility of making progressive advances also through the market in the face of failed states or paralyzed governments like those that characterize our region, together with the corporate behaviors that feed or justify this perception, could frustrate the proposal of a lasting model of responsible development. .