Viewpoint Diversity Score business index pushing back on woke dominance of corporate advocacy

GoDaddy, Adobe, Microsoft, Airbnb score worst in inaugural ratings of 50 companies in Fortune 1000 with "greatest potential to impact free speech and religious freedom."

Updated: May 30, 2022 - 11:20pm

Corporations trying to straddle the line between woke politics and respecting their customers, employees and investors are facing new scrutiny, courtesy of a firm that advises clients on "biblically responsible investing" and one of America's most successful Supreme Court litigants.

Inspire Insight and the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) collaborated on a "Viewpoint Diversity Score" business index that ranks corporations based on their product and service offerings, human resources and employee giving, and political engagement and charitable giving.

The purpose is evaluating to what extent "companies respect their stakeholders' freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief as a standard part of doing business," their website says.

Their advisory council includes conservative intellectual Robert George at Princeton University and Andrew Abela, dean of the business school at Catholic University of America, who had his own free-speech controversy two years ago.

The inaugural rankings may surprise some observers who associate intolerance and bias with social media and search engines. Neither Facebook parent Meta nor Google parent Alphabet is in the bottom 10 companies out of 50 ranked for the first annual edition of the index.

"Powerful companies — particularly in the tech and financial services industries — have emerged as de facto gatekeepers of essential services," wrote Jeremy Tedesco, ADF senior vice president of corporate engagement. "Relying on politically derived and ideologically motivated goals, these companies are, perhaps inadvertently, undermining trust and the institutions of democratic self-government."

The two organizations limited their first review to the Fortune 1000 and specifically industries with "the greatest potential to impact free speech and religious freedom ... essential banking, payment processing, and cloud services, or that serve as platforms for third-party expression in the digital space." 

Netflix, recently known for rebuking employees who demand it remove allegedly discriminatory content such as the Dave Chappelle comedy special "The Closer," was not evaluated. 

Neither was Disney, which first refused to criticize Florida's Parental Rights in Education bill and then swung hard the other way, drawing a legislative rebuke that ended its special tax and administrative status.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Tedesco and Inspire CEO Robert Netzley said the index sources data from responses to Inspire's 17-question survey, "company websites, reports, news releases, terms of service and political donations," then uses a scoring rubric with 42 questions, each worth three points. 

The worst company among the 50 is domain registrar and web hosting company GoDaddy, once known for racy Super Bowl advertising, with a 2% score. The next three — software makers Adobe and Microsoft and home rental platform Airbnb — scored 5%. 

Amazon and Twitter scored 6%, eBay and PayPal 7%, and Apple and Citigroup 8%. Only Microsoft responded to Just the News among the 10 worst-scoring companies, declining to comment on its ranking.

Meta and Alphabet fell just outside the lowest 10 with scores of 9%, and more than half of rated companies ranked between 10-20%. The overall average was 12%, with computer software (6%), internet services and retailing (8%) and financial and data services (11%) with the lowest averages by industry.

Tedesco said only two companies, Paychex and Truist, "provided substantive responses" to the survey Inspire sent the 50 last fall. That transparency helped them achieve the top two spots on the list with scores of 35% and 24%. Neither company responded to queries from Just the News.

Tedesco praised Truist for affirming that it "respects the constitutional and civil rights" of all individuals and companies, won't discriminate against any supplier or service provider, and expects those entities to "select subcontractors on a nondiscriminatory basis as well."

Tedesco told Just the News none of the companies has contacted ADF or Inspire since they published the index, but "we are more than happy to talk." The index offers research, model policies and toolkits for companies that want to improve their score. 

"I could easily see Disney and Netflix" getting reviewed "in the next few years," he said in a phone interview, but they didn't fit with the focus for the first review. (Both were cited in the op-ed.)

ADF and Inspire are working on a polling component whose full report is coming this summer, he said. While Tedesco declined to name the polling partner, he said a legislative component might be added to the project.

Corporate advocacy is dominated by progressive groups, and this new effort is the "first benchmark that pushes back on that," he said. ADF and Inspire want to "plant a flag for a different way of doing business" that reflects the "broad diversity of opinions" among these companies' constituencies.

He emphasized Inspire advises on billions of dollars in investments and the index advisory council includes several investment firm executives, so they can exert effective pressure on evaluated companies. The duo wants to grow the coalition that consults on the index as well.

"The entire conservative and religious movement can use" this index for their goals, but so can other advocates for viewpoint diversity, Tedesco said.