Why are businesses taking a stand on political debates?

By Joshua Cheetham
Business Reporter

  • Published
Jigsaw's campaign imageImage source, Jigsaw

Fashion label Jigsaw is the latest company to take a political stance with a new, pro-immigration fashion campaign titled Heart Immigration.

Its advertising campaign includes a manifesto declaring: "British style is not 100% British. In fact, there's no such thing as 100% British."

"As a clothing brand, we couldn't do what we do if people weren't free to move around," the advert continues.

"Without immigration, we'd be selling potato sacks."

The campaign has drawn praise from figures including London Mayor Sadiq Khan, but Jigsaw has also come under fire on social media for taking a stance on what is considered a political issue.

It's not the first company to feel the heat for expounding its beliefs, and with politics on both sides of the Atlantic becoming increasingly polarised, it's unlikely to be the last either.

'All are welcome'

"It's not about politics, it's just basic humanity and values for us," says Jigsaw chief executive Peter Ruis.

He adds: "Immigration is something very normal, it's living and working in another country. And it seems to have been demonised as a word."

Image source, Jigsaw
Image caption,
"It's just basic humanity and values for us": Jigsaw chief executive Peter Ruis

But no matter what the viewpoint of customers, Mr Ruis says "everyone is welcome in our stores".

"Our campaign is not about numbers or what are the right border controls," says Mr Ruis, whose company employs people from more than 45 countries.

"Our campaign is just celebrating Britain, this country that has welcomed foreigners for thousands of years."

Jigsaw is one of an increasing number of big businesses overtly weighing in on public debates around controversial political issues.

No company has positioned itself as anti-immigration, but senior management figures at several firms have made their opinions on Brexit clear.

One of the most vocal advocates of the UK leaving the EU is Tim Martin, founder and chairman of the pub chain JD Wetherspoon.

During the referendum campaign, Mr Martin donated £200,000 to the Leave campaign and had 200,000 beer mats printed and distributed across pubs, bearing messages arguing the UK was better off leaving the EU.

More recently, he signed a joint letter urging Theresa May to walk away from Brexit negotiations if the EU refused to start trade talks.

Vacuum cleaner magnate James Dyson, one of the UK's leading entrepreneurs, has also called Brexit "a liberation and a wonderful opportunity for all of us".

Activist consumers

Across the Atlantic, major US companies are increasingly taking public stances on political issues, spurred largely by the Trump administration policies on immigration, climate change and other controversial topics.

In an Instagram post, jeweller Tiffany & Co said "the disaster of climate change is too real" and called on President Donald Trump to keep the US in the Paris Climate Agreement.

Corporate giants including Apple and Facebook also voiced their opposition to Mr Trump's controversial ban on immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries in Africa and the Middle East. Starbucks boss Howard Schultz even pledged to hire 10,000 refugees globally over the next five years.

But does this mean that businesses are becoming increasingly moved to act on their conscience, or is something else at play?

"Increasingly, people are looking to companies to fill the role of government around social ills as public trust in institutions falls to new lows," says Petah Marian, senior editor at business trend forecaster WGSN.

"We are describing Generation Z as the activist consumer," says Ms Marian, referring to the generation often known as post-millennials.

"This cohort will use their smartphone to launch a social media protest or boycott of a product if a brand's values do not meet theirs, which requires brands to think carefully around what it is that they stand for."

While the motives of some companies may be complex, one thing is agreed upon: it's a trend that's here to stay.