Nearly half of the firms surveyed by the Conference Board recently said they have experienced some level of backlash against their ESG-related initiatives.
Among those companies, those in the financial and insurance services industries have been affected the most, with 37% of that sector saying they have experienced some level of backlash over environmental, social and governance initiatives. The next highest was business and professional services, with 8% of respondents in that sector saying there had been some backlash.
A report on the survey results authored by Andrew Jones, senior researcher, ESG center, at the Conference Board, said most of the backlash has been centered primarily on the social and environmental components of ESG, with the backlash being particularly emotionally charged when companies take public stances on social issues.
When asked which social issues their companies have taken public stances on since the beginning of 2020, the top response was racial equality at 61% of respondents, followed by 44% that said LGBTQ+ rights, 40% vaccination and other issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and 39% gender equality. Multiple answers were accepted.
When asked what the leading sources of backlash are, 31% and 22% said state policymakers/candidates and federal policymakers/candidates, respectively, followed by their own employees at 20%, media at 17% and senior management at 12%.
When asked which sources they're most concerned about over the next two years, 55% each said state and federal policymakers/candidates. Multiple answers were accepted.
Despite the volume of backlash, when asked what the extent is of the backlash they've received, 47% said minimal, 28% said moderate, 9% said none and 4% said they didn't know. Only 12% said either significant or very significant.
The Conference Board's report on the survey of 125 firms is available on its website.