A couple of news items struck me this week for the similarity in how advocates expanded the definition of powerful nouns to address human rights issues. From a communicator’s perspective, I appreciate the strategy. From a CSR advisor perspective, I see how such language may create barriers to understanding.
On Sunday, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders released his racial justice platform that positions issues faced by people of color as different forms of violence: Physical violence from law enforcement and extremists, the political violence of voter suppression, the legal violence of mass incarceration, and the economic violence of poverty. The expanded definition of violence beyond physical force quickly gained the Sanders’ campaign praise from leading voices in the Black Lives Matter campaign, with one leader tweeting, “The ‘violence’ framing in the initial draft of the Sanders Racial Justice platform is powerful & I look forward to seeing him expand this.”
In a column in GreenMoney Journal, Rebecca Adamson, founder and president of First Peoples Worldwide, took literary license to convey the seriousness of the issue of violence against women as a byproduct of extractive industry operations that create “man-camps” where prostitution and human trafficking can become common. Referring to the violence against women associated with extractive industry site operations, she writes, “It is social pollution as toxic as any chemical released into the environment.”
Violence and pollution are strong words that evoke powerful, negative and uncomfortable emotional feelings. For the institutions and companies linked to these issues I can imagine they may create internal discomfort if not outright resistance. After all, who wakes up with the intention of creating violence or pollution?
The challenge for CSR professionals when faced with what may seem to be hyperbolic claims is to broker an understanding that these are cries for understanding of the severe, if unintended, consequences of some government and corporate policies and practices. Rather than debate the language, explore the solutions. In the end, that’s what everyone is looking for even if someone decides to call them something else.