When should CEOs speak out on politics?

As executives flee White House business councils this week, they reflect an increased boldness in U.S. businesses to address political topics.

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Trump hastily dissolved two business advisory councils this week as chief executives began resigning over his remarks about an eruption of violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, sparked by a far-right rally around a Confederate monument. Among them, Intel, Merck, Under Armour, 3M, and the Campbell Soup Company.

The clash turned to horror when a white supremacist allegedly plowed his Dodge Challenger into a crowd of anti-Nazi protesters, killing a woman and injuring 19 people.

Making political statements can be perilous for companies, but sometimes it’s riskier not to take a stand, two experts in executive communications suggest.

Companies have a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders, and that consideration plays into CEO’s political positions, says Rob Friedman, a communications consultant and former senior director of Global Executive Communications for Eli Lilly and Company. There’s a risk any time a corporation wades into politics, because it can be a lose-lose situation, Friedman adds.

That said, these days the fiduciary responsibility includes a commitment to diversity in an increasingly diverse country, Friedman says. That makes it more obvious that companies would take a stance in this case.

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