Monday, January 16, 2023
MLK and ESG
I have given several talks on ESG (environmental, social, and governance) matters in the past few months. And, of course, it is a subject discussed in the classroom. As we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today (and this week), I could not help but feel that his work provided a foundation for—somehow embraced—current ESG discussions and actions. So, I went poking around on the Internet.
I guess I am not the only one who noticed this connection.
On the environmental part of ESG, Los Padres ForestWatch offers that:
Dr. King’s actions and teachings led to many important acts being passed in congress including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It’s through this work that Dr. King created a movement that was meant for us to understand how we are mutually tied together and that all life is interrelated. It’s this structure of thinking that has led many to believe that his work was the early structure for the Environmental Justice Movement. We see after Dr. King’s passing that environmentalists were able to pass the Clean Air Act of 1970, the Clean Water Act of 1972 and the Endangered Species Act. All of which that had a direct effect on communities of color which are often marginalized and impacted heavily by climate change.
Yet, Dr. King's social issue impacts—including especially the social justice effects of his work—are far more central to communities and corporations. Jeff Hilimire notes in a piece published on the Hands on Atlanta's website, that "[a]fter fighting for human rights for all Americans, Dr. King began to focus on employment and corporations as the next evolution of equality. He believed that companies have a responsibility to be forces of good in the world, and that their influence could make powerful change." Finally, Natalie Runyon at Thomson Reuters Institute hints at governance accountability when she notes in an online article that, while Dr. King would view current ESG efforts favorably, "Dr. King . . . stated that words are not enough—action must follow, with measurement to demonstrate progress."
I will be giving Dr. King's connection to ESG more thought this week as we celebrate his legacy. But regardless of Dr. King's level of responsibility for ESG, his work resonates for me in ESG discussions and debates.