As the protests in Hong Kong continue, the ripple effect has echoed into the American economy as corporations like the NBA and video game publisher Activision-Blizzard navigate controversies related to their commentaries—whether direct or indirect—on the disputes.
In the case of the NBA, the association found itself in an uncomfortable position in October after Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey tweeted an image that read “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong,” prompting backlash from Chinese fans and even LeBron James. When the NBA issued a statement remarking Morey’s stance was “regrettable,” it spurred debate about whether the corporation should apologize for what critics suggest was implicit support of the Chinese Communist Party over Hong Kong and its protesters.
Activision-Blizzard, frequently referred to as just Blizzard—one-half of the company that represents several specifically popular video game franchises like “World of Warcraft” and “Overwatch”—revoked the championship title and prize money of a “Hearthstone” competitor, Ng Wai Chung, who won the Asia Pacific Grandmasters tournament. Chung had verbally capped his winning match with the message “Liberate Hong Kong! Revolution of our age!” and Blizzard asserted he broke rules of conduct that state players cannot conduct themselves in a way that “brings [them] into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages [Blizzard’s] image.”
Here, Witold Henisz, a professor of management and director of the Wharton Political Risk Lab, explains why these companies have found themselves in such hot water and how it plays into his study of what he calls “corporate diplomacy.” Henisz is the author of “Corporate Diplomacy: Building Reputations and Relationships with External Stakeholders,” which argues for—and shows examples of—the lasting business value of employing corporate diplomats who rank at an executive level, are versed in business, and lead strategy related to governmental affairs, stakeholder relations, sustainability, enterprise risk management, community relations, and corporate communications. Students interested in learning more about Corporate Diplomacy can enroll in MGMT 720 (MBA) or MGMT 209 (undergraduate) this spring.