CEOs Have A Pivotal Role To Play In Stamping Out Hate

Bias against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders remains a troubling problem in the U.S.—and the number one place this hate is occurring? At work. Here's what leaders can do to turn things around.

As Americans across the country are flooded with news reports of assaults and hate speech directed at Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, individual protesters are taking a stand, and so too are companies.

A number of organizations have pledged and raised money for AAPI causes, helped customers identify AAPI owned businesses to support, and hosted bystander intervention trainings, as we did recently for our clients and employees.

Nonetheless, hate towards Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders remains a troubling problem. According to the Anti-Defamation League, 17% of Asian Americans reported online sexual harassment, stalking, physical threats and other incidents in 2020, up from 11% the year prior.  Stop AAPI Hate received reports of nearly 3,800 hate incidents from March 2020 through February this year, including verbal harassment, shunning and physical assault.

And where was the number one place this hate occurred? Businesses. While we often think of hate as taking place online, Stop AAPI Hate reports that over one third of AAPI hate incidents reported to it this past year occurred in a business setting, ranging from ride hailing services, to coffee shops, malls and grocery stores.

With the rise of stakeholder capitalism, companies increasingly view it as their responsibility to confront these types of behaviors. So, what can they do to address hate?

• Make sure your policies address hate. More companies are incorporating language to combat hate into their existing policies or developing standalone policies to do so. For instance, a company that wants to ensure its business customers are not engaged in hateful activity might incorporate language prohibiting such activity in its Community Code of Conduct, Community Guidelines, Terms of Service and Acceptable Use Policy, or other relevant policy.  A company concerned about hate speech among its workforce might incorporate language forbidding such speech in its Employee Code of Conduct or Employee Guidelines. Or, an online platform company used to organize a hateful rally might incorporate language prohibiting such content into its Content Standards and other policies.

In designing a policy, companies should decide:  Where in your business would you like to address hate—among employees, customers, clients, users, suppliers and/or other business relationships? What type of hateful activity would you like to address—hateful activity, hate speech, hateful conduct, hateful content, hate groups, promotion of hate, symbols of hate? How will you define hate—using expert guidance and peer benchmarking? In making such decisions, companies should consider the cultural, social and political context, and can engage relevant internal and external stakeholders to help with this.

• Put teeth in your enforcement mechanism. Whichever constituency your policy is designed to address (employees, customers, clients, users, suppliers and/or other business relationships) it is important to convey there are consequences for hateful activity, and thus your company must have in place a process for enforcing its policy. For instance, a company might decide that the legal department is responsible for enforcing the policy, and the chief legal officer is responsible for overseeing enforcement. If your policy is designed to mitigate hateful conduct among employees, Human Resources might do a background search of potential hires on social media and require employees to undergo regular training and sign a code of conduct addressing hate. Your company will also need to determine what the consequences may be if an employee violates your policy, which could range from remediation to suspension to termination. Because determinations about hate can be difficult to get right, many experts recommend providing a right to appeal. Companies should also decide whether they will report on their actions under the policy.

• Expand your search for ideas and guidance. Because companies in the United States are not bound by free speech requirements in the same way that the U.S. government is, they have a lot of flexibility in how they can respond. By turning their gaze globally, U.S.-based companies can use ideas and guidance that stem from other cultural, social and political contexts. The fact is, vast portions of the world think about freedom of expression differently than the United States.  International human rights law protects freedom of expression, but says it can be restricted in limited ways to ensure respect for the rights of others, including with regard to race.  Multilateral efforts, like the Rabat Plan of Action, can provide guidance to companies seeking to stem the advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred, while a comparative law review will yield examples of ways in which other countries have tried to address hate in various contexts—such as Germany’s controversial NetzDG law, aimed at combating hate speech and fake news on social networks.

• Monitor your online operations more carefully. Online hate speech is not relegated to big tech companies, which have been getting most of the attention lately and, as a result, have taken some important steps by flagging inaccurate or inciting content or by suspending the accounts of bad actors. Any business with a public-facing online component, such as a traditional news site or a retail company with online reviews, should determine how to monitor their platforms for hate speech and threats.

Business cannot afford to wait to address these matters. For companies trying to chart a path forward, the instinct should be to act. Companies that do not take an active role in curbing hate are swimming against the tide—and they need to step up if they don’t want to miss the boat.