Businesses Follow 'Public's Will' In Denouncing 'Religious Freedom' Laws NPR's Ari Shapiro speaks with business strategies consultant Susan McPherson about reactions by corporations to the "religious freedom" law passed in Mississippi and similar laws in other states.

Businesses Follow 'Public's Will' In Denouncing 'Religious Freedom' Laws

Businesses Follow 'Public's Will' In Denouncing 'Religious Freedom' Laws

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NPR's Ari Shapiro speaks with business strategies consultant Susan McPherson about reactions by corporations to the "religious freedom" law passed in Mississippi and similar laws in other states.


For more on the impact the business community might have on these laws, we've reached Susan McPherson. She's a business consultant who focuses on the intersection of brands and social justice. Welcome to the show.

SUSAN MCPHERSON: Thank you. I'm thrilled to be here, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Let me start by playing you a bit of tape from the CEO of PayPal, Dan Shulman. Our colleagues at member station WFAE in Charlotte, N.C., spoke to him after PayPal announced that it was canceling a project that would have brought 400 jobs to North Carolina. Here's what he said.


DAN SHULMAN: We want to attract the very best employees to PayPal. We need to be a company that embraces equality, that embraces inclusion. And so having a state come out against that was simply not tenable with our basic values as a company.

SHAPIRO: Susan, ultimately, is a decision like this primarily about values, or is it about money or PR or something else altogether?

MCPHERSON: I would say it's about all of the above, Ari. Businesses never make decisions, unfortunately, just out of what's right, as much as we would like to think that they do. They do look at the business climate and the ramifications that any kind of public statement would have on their business. But in the case, if you look at the poll over the last three to four years, and if you look at the sentiment of millenial voters, they are heavily in favor of equality and rights for all. So PayPal's decision, along with all the other companies - Salesforce, Google, IBM, just yesterday PepsiCo - they are following the public's - the public's will at this point.

SHAPIRO: So there's an interesting case study in contrast here where, if you look at the 2012 same-sex marriage ban that North Carolina passed, there was little corporate reaction as compared to today with this new law. You're saying that's just a change in public opinion and corporations reading the polls and reacting?

MCPHERSON: I think it's a combination again. You had things set aside to move forward after 2012, which was very much pushed by business before the Supreme Court. And what we've seen since 2012 up until now is more and more companies joining the bandwagon, almost in a domino effect. They are certainly looking at the polls. You know, in today's very public, open dialogue, which takes place on twitter and every other social media platform, companies are watching this and reading these - these signs from the public. And they are making decisions based on that.

SHAPIRO: We should say there was also a petition from businesses urging the governor to sign the law. But when you compare the names on that petition, they tended to be small, family-run businesses, some with a religious bent, as compared to the names on the petition urging them not to sign the law, which were big, corporate names that everyone would recognize on the national level.

MCPHERSON: Well, and not only that, but employ thousands of people in Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina and Georgia. The fact that PayPal has stated they're going to not only pull out, you know, $3.5 million worth of funding, but that's always going to stop the creation of 400 jobs.

SHAPIRO: Indiana seems to be one case study. The state passed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act a year ago. There was a similar corporate reaction to what we're seeing today in North Carolina and Mississippi. What kind of a financial impact did that have in Indiana? How did that play out?

MCPHERSON: When that law was passed, Marc Benioff of Salesforce was one of the first to get up and scold them in public. But he went further than scolding the state of Indiana. He announced that he was going to pull his annual Dreamforce conference from the state and not do business with the state going forward. Other businesses followed suit, and what we saw shortly thereafter was a direct response to the potential economic crisis. Indiana responded by weakening the law.

SHAPIRO: Susan McPherson is founder and CEO of the corporate consulting firm McPherson Strategies. Thanks for talking with us.

MCPHERSON: Thank you, Ari.

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