Companies often resort to a range of communication tactics to influence the course of events in their business interest. This is problematic if it means that legitimate community, worker, or public interests are disregarded or only responded to in a tokenistic, superficial manner.
Using this type of strategy, companies try to contain threats or produce favourable outcomes for the company by distracting or disinforming audiences, without taking responsibility for societal risks or any harm done. When effective, this type of strategy allows the company to continue doing business as usual, while harmful human rights or environmental impacts persist.
Six ways to distract and obfuscate stakeholders
The strategy to distract and obfuscate stakeholders can take a variety of forms. Companies can engage communities impacted by their operations in a symbolic rather than meaningful way to avoid community protests and subsequent demands for accountability directed at them. They can disseminate distorted information among the public to make their business seem more responsible than it is, or engage in downright fraudulent activities and disseminate false information to avoid responsibility for past or future harms. Another form in which this strategy manifests itself is by manipulation of scientific research, producing data that is favourable for the business while downgrading societal risks and impacts. Furthermore, companies can abuse standard systems that are designed to assure that products and production qualities conform with specific requirements to conceal unsustainable or substandard company practices. A last form identified here is the diversion of complaints through company controlled grievance mechanisms that pretend to offer remedy for victims, but actually delay or divert right-holders’ complaints.