In the wake of yesterday’s collapse of the advisory councils assembled by Donald Trump, the question of which CEOs will stay and which will go is now moot. The core issues, however, remain, and the need for business leadership is stronger now than ever.
While the impact of these councils was questionable even before they imploded in the aftermath of the President’s response to the tragic events in Charlottesville, their members have perspectives—and voices—that are sorely needed to shape an economy that works for everyone.
Specifically, here are five key principles that the business leaders who were on the councils can rally around to make good on their original intent in joining the councils—that is, to help define and promote a thriving economy, both here in the United States and abroad.
Prioritize Climate Action: The business community has overwhelmingly expressed its desire to see the U.S. stay actively engaged in the Paris Agreement. Despite the Trump Administration’s wrong-headed decision to withdraw from the agreement, international momentum toward long-term decarbonization is strong. American businesses, like their peers globally, are making commitments and generating innovation to make the vision of Paris a reality. It remains crucial for business leaders to focus the public, as well as policymakers, on the imperative need—and the economic benefit—of remaining committed to decisive climate action.
Ensure Support for Diversity and Inclusion: The majority of the American public was appalled by the hate expressed last week on the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, and this sentiment has spread beyond the borders of the U.S., with the Prime Minister of Great Britain, amongst others, expressing her revulsion at the events and the response from the White House. Businesses know that our economy—and our societies—thrive when diversity is respected. The time is right for business leaders to reinforce their commitments to diversity and respect for everyone, to reassure a nation that is uncertain whether these core principles are being upheld.
Provide Good Jobs in an Era of Automation: It is widely understood that profound technological and demographic changes are reshaping manufacturing, the nature of work, and the social contract. Businesses are driving many of these innovations, some of which are decoupling productivity from employment. Business leaders should be promoting this kind of progress; they should also be playing a key role in ensuring that people who are displaced by these changes are able to participate fully in the economy and secure stable livelihoods. The former members of the councils are uniquely well placed to catalyze and shape a national dialogue on what the future of employment will look like: Washington is hardly driving that debate today.
Promote Human Rights in Global Trade: While this issue has not gotten as much attention as some others, such as the U-turn on climate change, support for human rights in global trade is clearly being de-prioritized, if not undermined, by the administration. Business leaders understand that global trade—and yes, global trade agreements—that integrates respect for human rights and rule of law not only protects individuals, but provides a more stable basis for a thriving economy. Businesses that have embraced the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights should remind Washington that trade based on human rights rewards companies that do things the right way and enhances American competitiveness.
Support Multilateral Solutions: Finally, it is essential the business community raise its voice in support of collaborative, multilateral solutions to our shared challenges. The history of the 21st century will depend on how well we all join together to shape our future. Business thrives on competition, but companies also know that their success depends on stable frameworks founded upon respect. We all have a stake in ensuring that a retreat into xenophobic mindsets does not throw the global economy into reverse. And business leaders can be a powerful voice promoting the notion that interdependence and collaboration are key to unlocking human progress and prosperity.
The ending of the two councils established in January was the latest chapter in the tragicomedy that is our current reality. Nonetheless, it remains possible for this shambolic and unfortunate process to lead to something positive. The CEOs that were on the councils (and others) have an opportunity to demonstrate leadership at a time when it is sorely needed. These five steps would go a long way to restoring faith in the direction of the American economy—and our institutions.