Contemporary academic corporate governance narratives have a blind spot. They focus on institutions, rules, regulations, processes, procedures, intermediaries, and market forces. Yet, missing in this narrative, is the impact of corporate leadership. Ignoring the “black box” of corporate leadership, particularly individual actors, renders an incomplete descriptive assessment as well as potential miscalculations. The examination of key historical figures and their corporate activism provides an important lens through which to identify potential challenges and opportunities related to the contemporary ESG movement.
Generally, this essay examines corporate leadership’s potential to address socio-political issues through the prism of Civil Rights Movement activism. Specifically, it reflects on the far-reaching legacy of Reverend Leon H. Sullivan: his Selective Patronage Movement; Opportunities Industrialization Centers; International Foundation for Education and Self Help (IFESH); cooperative investment strategies; entrepreneurialism; longstanding service on the General Motors board of directors; development of the Sullivan Principles to combat apartheid in South Africa; and the contribution of the Global Sullivan Principles in promoting human rights everywhere. Sullivan’s use of various modes of economic power and coercion illustrate how corporate leadership can promote change both intramurally and in society at large. The analysis also reveals some challenges and limitations that remain relevant today. Part I of this Article reintroduces contemporary scholars to Reverend Leon H. Sullivan: his early origins, influences, and the philosophy informing his activism. Part II describes his broad legacy of economic activism. Part III examines how Sullivan’s civil and human rights activism inform modern corporate activism. Finally, Part IV draws conclusions and suggests directions for future research.
Omari Scott Simmons, Selective Patronage, 46 SEATTLE U. L. REV. 331 (2023).
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