Corporate virtue signaling may be drawing attention to injustices. Or covering them up.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a transformative leader who left behind a great legacy of peace, justice, and equality. However far we have yet to go to achieve his great dream, we live in a better world thanks to the work of Dr. King.
Like other peace workers, King exemplified many of the highest human qualities; compassion, brotherhood, and magnificent vision. Dr. King’s far-seeing glimpse into a better future laid the foundation on which we still stand today.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned an America where people of different races could live peacefully in a fully integrated society with equal rights for all under the law. With the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, King began to turn his attention to another great bastion of injustice and inequality in America — as he saw it — one that impacted Black Americans on a disproportionate level.
“A second evil which plagues the modern world is that of poverty,” King said during his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize address. “Like a monstrous octopus, it projects its nagging, prehensile tentacles in lands and villages all over the world. Almost two-thirds of the people of the world go to bed hungry at night. They are undernourished, ill-housed, and shabbily clad. Many of them have no houses or beds to sleep in. Their only beds are the sidewalks of the cities and the dusty roads of villages. Most of these poverty-stricken children of God have never seen a physician or dentist.”
In the years before his tragic assassination, King became keenly aware of the widening chasm between the wealthy and the poor. Poverty, he predicted, could eventually become a more difficult circumstance to overcome than the challenges of race.
King may have had a point.
In 2023, the gap between the haves and the have-nots in America is as catastrophic as it has ever been. The wealth gap between the wealthiest 1% of the 1% and the rest of the world is so wide, it can no longer be rendered on a graph.
If the size of the wealth owned by the bottom 99.99% of people were the size of this comma, a representation of the wealth owned by the 0.01% richest would need to be the size of Everest.
Or maybe Mars.
Over the past few years, the phenomenon of corporate virtue signaling has emerged. It is seen by some as a vehicle to foster more equality.
Others see it as a cynical, mercenary ploy by the wealthiest corporations and individuals in the world to 1.) design compelling advertisements, i.e. “buying this product will make you a better person,” and 2.) cover up forced labor, unsound environmental practices, and the dread worldwide results of globalization sans regulation.
Instead of raising the poverty level in emerging nations and growing the middle class worldwide, the same wealthy companies who are now virtue signaling took advantage of lax environmental standards and no labor laws to ruthlessly exploit emerging nations.
And the U.S. working class.
They made a fortune doing so — which is why today the wealth gap is wider than ever.
The most woeful, pernicious type of poverty — the type Dr. King was so anxious to eradicate — wasn’t a separate issue to racism in America, but a direct corollary in his estimation.
Generational poverty is still stalking working-class African-American communities. It haunts emerging nations and poor neighborhoods the world over.
“Communities of color have lost confidence in the institutions of power and authority in this country,” says Sen. Tim Scott. “That has been a slow drain over a couple of centuries.”
Is corporate virtue signaling likely to help restore that trust? Or does it merely hide exploitation, inequality, and the seeds of generational poverty?
“The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty,” Dr. King wrote in “Where do we go from Here: Chaos or Community,” in 1967.
The question: Does corporate virtue signaling get us closer to that dream?
Or push us further away?
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)