The early days of the Trump administration has seen the business world turn into a political battlefield.
In the latest clash, Apple (AAPL) is speaking out against the White House’s reversal of Obama-era policies that allow transgender students to use whichever bathroom corresponds with their gender identity. President Donald Trump’s administration this week said it will be up to states and school districts to interpret whether federal sex discrimination law applies to gender identity.
“Apple believes everyone deserves a chance to thrive in an environment free from stigma and discrimination,” Apple said in a statement emailed to CBS MoneyWatch. “We support efforts toward greater acceptance, not less, and we strongly believe that transgender students should be treated as equals.”
The company added, “We disagree with any effort to limit or rescind their rights and protections.”
The greater the public support for transgender rights, the harder it coud get for Mr. Trump and his administration to oppose those rights, said Jack Preis, University of Richmond School of Law professor.
“Some supporters will carry more sway than others,” Preis said in an email. “When Apple speaks, its message is more likely to be heard than, say, the local grocer down the street.”
He added, “But it’s not at all clear to me that a tech company based in California will have much sway with local school superintendents in middle America who are now charged with deciding what to do.”
It’s not the first time Apple has taken a stance against the Trump administration. The technology giant previously criticized Mr. Trump’s immigration policies, including its travel ban against citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries.
“Apple would not exist without immigration, let alone thrive and innovate the way we do,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said in an email to Apple employees.
Businesses are increasingly taking a public position on hot-button issues, a departure from Corporate America’s longstanding practice of lobbying lawmakers behind the scenes. In January, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin-based Penzeys Spices, for example, reached out to customers who were planning to march in the women’s march on Washington to offer free pins with its slogan, “Kind.”
In the weeks after Mr. Trump’s victory, owner Bill Penzey spoke out against “racism, sexism and homophobia” and stressed that his company celebrates diversity. While he said it won supporters, it also alienated some conservative customers, he told CBS MoneyWatch late last year.
Corporate executives are increasingly aligning their businesses with ideals such as diversity and multiculturalism. Aside from reflecting the increasing diversity of the American workforce, there may be another underlying reason: the growing economic divide between red and blue voters.
While Mr. Trump won the electoral vote, he lost almost every large-sized county economy across America, according to an analysis from the Brookings Institution. Rival Hillary Clinton carried counties that represent 64 percent of America’s economic activity.
Democratic voters, in other words, account for the lion’s share of consumer spending in the U.S., which means corporations that align with progressive policies may tap a more powerful economic base.