Will Business Save Democracy?

What happens when our government fails to establish a standard for the Common Good?  In the case of COVID-19 and the topic of mask wearing, we see corporate citizens step up to take a stand.

The National Retail Federation (NRF) issued a statement encouraging all retailers to adopt a nationwide policy that requires customers to wear face coverings or masks to protect the health and well-being of customers, associates and partners during the coronavirus pandemic:

The health and safety of associates and customers is retailers’ number one priority and wearing a face covering or mask is scientifically proven to reduce the spread of COVID-19. NRF applauds the leadership of companies like Walmart, Starbucks, Best Buy, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Apple, Qurate Retail Group, Costco and others that have implemented nationwide mask mandates.

We hope today’s announcement by Walmart – the world’s largest retailer – that it will be enforcing a policy requiring customers to wear a mask to shop in their stores is a tipping point in this public health debate. Workers serving customers should not have to make a critical decision as to whether they should risk exposure to infection or lose their jobs because a minority of people refuse to wear masks in order to help stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

Since the onset of the pandemic, retailers of all sizes have been on the front lines safely serving customers and supporting their communities. Stores are private businesses that can adopt policies permitted by law for the health and safety of their associates and their customers. Shopping in a store is a privilege, not a right. If a customer refuses to adhere to store policies, they are putting employees and other customers at undue risk.

In addition, the NRF joined the US Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Council of Life Insurers, the National Retail Federation, and others to issue a joint letter to the President and Vice-President of the United States to request that the White House Coronavirus Task Force and the National Governors Association work together to:

  1. Establish guidance on the appropriate metrics (e.g. positive tests, hospitalizations) for imposing location-based mandatory mask requirements in all public spaces;
  2. Develop model mandatory mask policies that are simple and do not impose the enforcement burden on organizations without such expertise, such as businesses and non-profits; and
  3. Make clear that businesses and non-profits will not be held liable for refusing entry or services to an individual who is not complying with face covering requirements.

Their rationale?

We believe that a national mask standard, implemented locally, offers the surest way to protect public health and promote economic recovery.

It’s Time for Collaboration

What else could businesses do to protect the public health and promote economic recovery?

The first step is to realize that the current US administration is not doing its job, and must be replaced by one that does.

Times of crises call out for public leadership in service of the Common Good.  Absent that leadership, businesses have a responsibility to not be silent, and more importantly, to act.

In a Democracy, that means they will act in a transparent way to:

(1) ensure the public is given access to the truth, and protected from misinformation and “alternative facts.”

(2) ensure elections will be fair and free (without the imposition of poll taxes, and other suppression techniques)

(3) promote policies for the Common Good, instead of tax-breaks that serve narrow, special interests.

In short, businesses should support Democracy, and protect the Republic from corruption.  Without this basic understanding, we will see a government, institutions, and markets that are no longer trusted by the consumer or the citizen.  We will be unable to react to other, more difficult, challenges, and the government of the people, by the people, and for the people will perish from this Earth.

Writing the occasional letter to the President is not enough. The case for collaboration to Save our Democracy has never been clearer.

Business knows how to do this.  What is preventing it from happening?

NOTE: For further reading, see Rebecca Henderson’s article The Business Case for Saving Democracy: Why free markets need free politics.