A number of CEOs have gone out of their way to say they empathise with “Occupy Wall Street” protesters.
Pimco’s Bill Gross said that occupiers are “fighting back after 30 years of being shot at,” and Larry Fink of BlackRock said they “are not lazy people sitting around looking for something to do. We have people losing hope and they’re going into the street, whether it’s justified or not.” Citigroup’s Vikram Pandit even offered to “talk to them anytime.”
But what does empathy translate to?
We haven’t seen anyone offer to take a pay cut, and we don’t expect to.
Pimco’s Mohammed el-Erian says it’s up to the politicians to respond: “[Protesters] coalesce around something that begins to influence political elites and encourage a midcourse correction. And that would be healthy. I think we do need a midcourse correction to bring down unemployment.”
GE’s Jeffrey Immelt —who’s also on President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness — said that discrepancy in pay “is certainly one of the problems today in terms of why people feel the system is unfair,” but added that attacking CEOs wouldn’t solve the problem.
But even so, by acknowledging the movement, these CEOs are giving validity to it. Consider this statement from Ben & Jerry’s, which is owned by Unilever:
We, the Ben & Jerry’s Board of Directors, compelled by our personal convictions and our Company’s mission and values, wish to express our deepest admiration to all of you who have initiated the non-violent Occupy Wall Street Movement and to those around the country who have joined in solidarity. We know the media will either ignore you or frame the issue as to who may be getting pepper sprayed rather than addressing the despair and hardships borne by so many, or accurately conveying what this movement is about.
While making statements like this is a great PR move for these companies and their executives, it’s also a bold one — because if the movement gains as much traction as its leaders project, these companies are already wearing bullseyes for when the protesters start making more demands.
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