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Monday 9 December 2019, Rob Lyons

Woke corporations: responsible capitalism or virtue signalling?

Listen to the debate from the Battle of Ideas Festival 2019.

Earlier this year, Gillette produced an advert aimed at challenging ‘toxic masculinity’. Although somewhat frivolous, the example illustrates a growing trend among the world’s biggest companies to weigh in on social issues. In perhaps the most infamous example of all, in 2017, Pepsi released an advert with Kylie Jenner healing divisions at a protest march. The advert was widely condemned for appropriating the legacy of the civil-rights movement. But many companies seem to genuinely care about social causes. Unilever, one of the world’s biggest companies, has made ambitious environmental commitments that are priorities at all levels of the company. For some observers, this is evidence of a genuine shift in how businesses think about their role, often underpinned by new generations of employees demanding change. But critics have condemned what’s been called ‘woke capitalism’ or even ‘wokewashing’. Are ‘woke’ corporations a cynical attempt to curry favour with the lucrative millennial market, or should we celebrate demonstrations of corporate conscience? What does the rise of woke capitalism tell us about the prospects and possibilities for more radical change today?

ASAD DHUNNA
founder, The Unmistakables; commentator; former director of communications, Pride in London

DR ELIANE GLASER
writer; radio producer; reader, Bath Spa University; author, Anti-Politics: on the demonisation of ideology, authority, and the state

DR NORMAN LEWIS
director, Futures-Diagnosis Ltd; co-author, Big Potatoes: the London manifesto for innovation

DAN MOBLEY
global corporate relations director, Diageo

TOBY YOUNG
co-founder, West London Free School; author, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People; associate editor, Spectator and Quillette

CHAIR: PATRICK HAYES
director, British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA); director, EdTech Exchange

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Battle of Ideas Festival 2019

9:30am, Saturday 2 November 2019, Barbican, Silk Street, London

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