Corporate brands around the world are funding political causes and jumping on the social media bandwagon in a largely harmless, if frustrating, attempt to convince more people to buy from them. But the next step in this anti-establishment posturing sees some of those companies getting into bed with some seriously undesirable characters – including organisations with connections to dangerous foreign regimes.
It seems like everywhere you look another brand is engaging in the culture wars. From Gillette’s famous anti-male “#MeToo” ad targeting the US market, to ANZ’s tone-deaf ad against hate speech down in Australia, this has become a world-wide issue with the United States at the centre of the storm.
Nick-named “woke-washing,” the most recent global iteration saw companies coming out in support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, posting black squares on Instagram with just about everyone else – followed by many of them hastily retreating as they realised the full implications of the highly political, neo-Marxist movement. Not so for every corporate caught up in another opportunity to flash their liberal credentials, however, as a bunch of them doubled down to pour funding into BLM and the related organisations responsible for riots and destruction of property across America.
It appears that for some the dominant line of thought is that any enemy of President Trump’s is a friend of theirs, and that has led them down some dark alleys – including all the way to China, as BLM’s co-founder so recently demonstrated.
This connection between woke agitating and broader national security issues has not gone unnoticed at the White House: back in July US attorney general William Barr warned that in some cases the pro-China advocacy of corporate America could amount to being foreign agents requiring registration, and at the same time criticised technology companies including Google and Microsoft for their ‘collaboration’ with the Chinese Communist Party.
But it’s not just American technology companies falling into the hole of pro-China cooperation and support. International banks including HSBC and Standard Chartered have been caught out backing the Hong Kong security law, implemented earlier this year by Chinese authorities as part of their brutal crackdown on civil liberties in the territory. Trump vehemently opposed the new law, and ended preferential treatment of Hong Kong in a move that put the US government on the right side of history.
Australian banking giant ANZ is another company that has been caught up in the China-love, ditching one of its top traders over his criticism of China’s handling of coronavirus, with worrying implications for free speech. Bogac Ozdemir, a US citizen, was later invited to the White House in a clear vote of confidence from the President. ANZ’s other pro-China decisions include doubling down on investments in the country and processing large amounts of customer data there, blindly risking the security of its customers and investors.
For ANZ it was a short step from speeches by Anna Wintour attacking Trump and LGBT virtue signalling, to backing China against reality and its own financial interests. This is a pattern that should worry people around the world.
The lines are being drawn between liberal and conservative, woke and not, left and right, and in their haste to appear ‘on trend’ corporate brands in America and around the world are signing up – and handing over money – to causes that they do not fully understand. The consequences of this kind of blindness to the role of China in this agitation and destruction could become huge, with the potential to have a real impact on the security of the United States and her allies.
Emily Barley is a British political commentator writing on Brexit, security, foreign relations and election issues. She is chairman of Conservatives for Liberty, a campaign group which does what it says on the tin, and a former UK General Election candidate.