Separation of 'church' and tech

Separation of 'church' and tech

Summary: Should tech companies assume role of social lobbyists? What happens when their users take a different stance?

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Google recently kicked off its "Legalize Love" campaign, targeting Singapore and Poland as the first two countries for launch, to decriminalize homosexuality and champion the rights of same-sex couples.

According to a report from Dot429.com, a Google rep said the initiative seeks to promote "safer conditions" for gay and lesbian individuals "inside and outside the office". The report further quoted Google's head of diversity, Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe: "Singapore wants to be a global financial centre and world leader, and we can push them on the fact that being a global centre and a world leader means you have to treat all people the same, irrespective of their sexual orientation."

I'm pro-choice and firmly believe everyone has the right to choose the life they want to lead and subscribe to any belief system they best relate to. So I fully support what Legalize Love fights for, but I wonder about the repercussions when tech giants like Google take a stance on social issues.

In a report we ran on Wednesday, Dennis Driscoll from the National University of Ireland's Schoold of Law, said prominent IT organizations such as Apple, Google and Facebook have the potential to "enlighten" society.

According to Driscoll, consumers in industrialized countries were increasingly concerned companies from which they purchase goods and services demonstrated good corporate social responsibility (CSR). He added in the near future, all organizations would have to account for their "social value" and not just financial performance.

The problem, though, is the definition of "social value" and "good CSR" varies between individuals, societies and countries. What may be considered acceptable social value in one, very well may not be in another. Unlike the IT world, where a piece of technology will work the same regardless of where it's used, the world isn't homogeneous and probably will never be.

If Driscoll is right, and consumers want companies from which they purchase goods and services to have good CSR, the effects can go either way. Consumers who do not agree with Google's stance on homosexuality may no longer want to use or buy its technology.

He noted, too, that companies have "their own passions" but what happens when these entities change CEOs--a regular occurrence in the tech business landscape--and the new heads may or may not support the organization's existing social stance?

Some religious groups also would not view Google's Legalize Love campaign in a favorable light. And they might see it as more cause for worry considering the potential influence the tech giant has via its large, and very strong, footprint across the globe.

It's the same reason I monitor the belief system my country's key political leaders subscribe to as it may influence the kind of social policies my government implements. And it's the reason why the separation of church and state has been adopted in several countries.

As I see it, though, it's a business risk companies assume when they choose to take a public stance on social issues which have strong opposing camps. Consumers who don't agree with a tech company's social stance can simply choose to boycott its services, unlike governments and societies where it may take a much longer and more tedious process to effect change.

Like it or not, more and more companies--tech or otherwise--will assume positions in support or protest against policies and social issues, be it because these may have direct impact on their business like the SOPA bill or simply because the companies subscribe to a certain "social value".

It's their prerogative, their choice to make and a business risk they will have to assume.

Agree or not, as consumers, we can at least choose to vote with our wallet.

Topics: Social Enterprise, Google, Government Asia, Singapore

About

Eileen Yu began covering the IT industry when Asynchronous Transfer Mode was still hip and e-commerce was the new buzzword. Currently a freelance blogger and content specialist based in Singapore, she has over 16 years of industry experience with various publications including ZDNet, IDG, and Singapore Press Holdings.

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10 comments
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  • When the state is no church

    I tend to be very skeptical of companies with CSR agendas. In a pure capitalist model, companies are supposed to be maximizing shareholder value. Spending money on social causes would seem to be outside their mandate.

    Singapore presents a different problem though. You have a government which does not have the courage or the vision to keep legislation relevant to the reality on the ground, yet at the same time prevents meaningful social change through a democratic-in-name-only process.

    Singapore has the ambition to be the "Silicon Valley of the East", yet continues to criminalize homosexuality. Given that a significant percentage of Silicon Valley is gay, one wonders how exactly Singapore proposes to duplicate the conditions that have made Silicon Valley a success. (I once raised this point at an IDA consultative session to stunned silence)

    So let's re-frame the question.

    It is not about Google taking a CSR stance that is at odds with its underlying business model, it is the exact opposite - it is Google trying to ensure that the business environment in Singapore matches what it requires to succeed - just like having reliable electricity, transparent legal system, and efficient telecom links.
    whanafi
    • Silicon Valley, not Silicon Gay-ley

      Whanafi,

      Putting aside churches and any religious views, I could not adequately express my perplexity after reading your comment. You are suggesting Singaporean must be gay in order to be on par with Silicon Valley standards. That is how I read your comment, and I believe how everyone with sound mind would. What a narrow-minded view.

      You started off your comment with use of ingenious terms like capitalists, etc.; however, sadly right after that, I lose you, completely.

      Reviews are to be backed by numbers and facts. Show all of us, by numbers, that being gay, produces top notch apps, semiconductor,...or I challenge you, produces top notch scrambled-eggs!!

      Now, all those aside, "I shall switch to Bing and Outlook.com". I hope you understand what I mean by this simple sentence, I pray you would.
      inova2008
  • So Eileen, did you oppose the boycott of South Africa?

    While I understand the point that you're making - that different people and cultures have different values - that doesn't mean there aren't certain, fundamental values to which everyone (at least, according to the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, not to mention many rich-world consumers) are, or should be, entitled.

    Case in point would be when many companies boycotted the apartheid, racist government of South Africa, which helped pressure the government there to change. Did some people view apartheid as acceptable, or at least "none of [insert global company name here]'s business"? Yes. Did most consumers support the many large companies that pressured South Africa to change? Yes.

    Criminalizing an inherent trait, like gender or sexual orientation (or color of one's skin) is wrong. I love Singapore, and was there a half-dozen times during my 8+ years living in Thailand, but Singapore is as wrong to criminalize homosexuality as some parts of the United States were to criminalize inter-racial relationships and marriage in the last century.

    So, while there are certainly valid discussions to be had about where, and how far, a company's "CSR" policies should go, I don't believe there is a valid case to be made that corporations should be agnostic about any and all issues around them. I hate to be the one to demonstrate Godwins Law, but the foreign corporations that sold weapons, fuel and supplies to the Nazis used much the same excuse for their actions as those who oppose Google's stance in Singapore do now.
    kirkd-a5a94
    • Sexual orientation? an "inherent trait?"

      "Criminalizing an inherent trait, like gender or sexual orientation"

      Gender is an inherent trait, yes. Both physical and genetic differences can be proven beyond a shadow of a reasonable doubt.

      But sexual orientaiton is not so clear. I'm still somewhat skeptical of the claim that it is. IMO it's a decision people make, not an actual trait that they possess.

      Not saying that people shouldn't be allowed to make that decision. But we should at least try to be accurate about it.
      CobraA1
  • indeed . . .

    " but I wonder about the repercussions when tech giants like Google take a stance on social issues."

    Indeed. I never asked these organizations to speak for me, and I don't recall anybody else asking them to do so, either.

    IMO we're a nation of people, not a nation of organizations. Businesses exist to provide us with products, not to represent us.

    Last I checked, the official way to represent us is through our congressmen/congresswomen, not businesses. It's annoying how much businesses get into our politics.
    CobraA1
  • Let it be

    This is exactly the sort of Cultural Imperialism that people told us was responsible for 9/11. Horseback preachers from the Church of Liberal Humanism are going to be no more popular as missionaries than the Franciscan monks were. They don't seem to have any trouble understanding this when, say, Christian fundamentalists don't want them to perform abortions. But they will turn right around, climb on the same High Horse of Universal Truth, and ride out to preach -their- values.

    Selling homosexuality in a Catholic country is not enlightened. It's just boorish. The only thing good that can be said about it is that it's better than selling homosexuality in a Moslem country. Because that will get something blown up.
    Robert Hahn
  • Need Separation of Corporation and State.

    I am a Orthodox Bible beveling Anglican. Homosexuality is a sin among other sin that need to here the call to repentance and forgiveness of sin though Christ.
    Still unlike THE Episcopal church Google is not a Christian .
    I am not surprised or concern about Google's attempt to support gay marriage in their company. I would say this would not be reason for me shun Google or any company that is still unregenerate and in the world (see I Cor5 9-13. ) What does concern me is how Google is trying to influence governments to change national policy to fit Google's policy on gay marriage. not only it change of policy can effect the church's belief Google is resorting to blackmail. No change in policy and the country block Google, no goggle for the masses.

    Having been to Singapore, I wonder is Google risking a backlash for the Indian, Malay, Chinese cultures. Cold Google be looked at not as a savior but the typical arrogant ugly American foreign devil telling us what to do. Instead of praise Google may be bucking for a protest.
    Richardbz
  • Narrow focus

    Why do some companies think they can change the world with an advertising campaign?
    The countries involved will simply see another case of American do-gooders interfering.

    They should make the effort to fix a few things closer to home and closer to their business operations. For example: lobby Congress to clean up the search and seizure laws as they relate to information technologies. I want the Fourth amendment properly enforced.
    lars626
    • I switched to Bing.

      Google has gone over the top with all their social change to their views. These are decisions all of us would prefer to make ourselves, rather than Google money making forced change by paid off politicians.
      doggiebites
  • Marriage endowed by the State, not the Church

    Marriage now has been reduced to simply a way of declaring property rights over your partner as you vow a contract, in many cases coming with a prenup to sever risk ... a bet made that you will divorce and your partner is undeserving of your inheritance. I think the original purpose of marriage was to promote being fruitful in the procreative stance (while also containing disease); however, the State co-opting it to enforce those property rights, even changing the definition to its will, denies the foundation it came from.

    I think the problem here is in regards to a person passing on their inheritance to their partner, being able to visit them in the hospital as a family member, and not being denied recognition of the love in their relationship. That can easily be approached through civil unions; however, I think that even opposite sex couples should be able to use the term to prevent discrimination. This means that marriage is simply a type of civil union, and the Church can keep the term for its spiritual meanings. This would enable live-in life partners, whether gay, straight, sexual or not, a way to declare their property rights over the other partner in an attempt to share their wealth as a token of their devotion.

    Thankfully, you already know how you feel about the other person, so what other people think of you shouldn't matter ... as long as they aren't treating you any differently in court and at hospitals when it comes to signing a contract sharing your inheritance. The division between definitions should be apparent to the Church, and it doesn't matter what wording the State uses when allowing State benefits a person paid into to be designated in their partner's name should they die. So, the State should just start calling marriages civil unions, interchangeably if it wants, and the Church can keep the term to use when describing the associated rhetoric where two were united to become one flesh.
    Vapur9