Resignations create reputation issues for Chamber

WASHINGTON: The US Chamber of Commerce is facing a reputational battle following the public resignations of Apple, Pacific Gas & Electric, Exelon, and PNM over the business federation's opposition to climate change legislation.

WASHINGTON: The US Chamber of Commerce is facing a reputational battle following the public resignations of Apple, Pacific Gas & Electric, Exelon, and PNM over the business federation's opposition to climate change legislation.

Nike, which also publicly chided the Chamber on its stance, resigned from the board of directors but told news media it plans to advocate for climate change within the trade association.

“I believe the Chamber is in danger of falling out of the mainstream debate,” said Michael Kempner, president and CEO of MWW Group. “I think the brand has taken a serious hit with the departure of not just those high-profile companies but many others that are contemplating leaving.”

The Chamber does not support the cap-and-trade legislation that was passed by the House of Representatives this year, although it does say it supports legislation that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

As the Chamber responds to the recent flood of media attention on the resignations, it is also preparing to launch what it is calling a $100-million campaign that will focus on the value of free enterprise in the US.

The effort, which will address issues relating to climate change, healthcare reform, labor, and taxes, is expected to kick off this month. It recently awarded PR contracts to Powell Tate and Purple Strategies for the multiyear integrated campaign.

Calls to the Chamber were not returned, but its leadership recently told The Hill that it has no plans to change its position. 

“No one denies them the right to their viewpoint and their pro-business agenda,” noted Kempner. “But, when their pro-business agenda begins to line up with the fringe of the Republican Party versus the mainstream of the Republican Party, they put themselves in the position of becoming irrelevant.”

For companies like Apple and Nike, both of which have publicly spoken out about climate change, association with the fringe places them at a disadvantage with the Obama Administration and other stakeholders.

It's a “tough position for a company like Nike or Apple to be associated with,” said Mike Lawrence, EVP and chief reputation officer at Cone.

“It seems, from what I've read, that the Chamber believes it is representing the majority of members,” he added. “They've obviously made a calculated decision that this position represents the majority of its members.”

Leonard Anderson, a corporate communications team member at Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), said that the utility's resignation “reflects PG&E's focus on environmental leadership.”

In a letter sent to Chamber president and CEO Tom Donahue, PG&E said that Chamber had taken an extreme view on climate change issues, something that it believed did not represent the views of all members.

“This is not something that is going to be repaired easily,” said Kempner. “This has significant reputational and operational issues for them.”

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