Business group urges companies to follow Michael McCain's lead after anti-Trump tweets

More companies should take bold stands the way Maple Leaf Foods CEO Michael McCain did in a surprising bit of online outspokenness this week, says the executive director of Canadian Business for Social Responsibility.

Leor Rotchild said he supports the New Brunswick-born CEO of a major publicly traded company using the corporate Twitter account to empathize with a colleague who lost his wife and 11-year-old son in the downed Ukranian plane in Iran last week and to articulate his anger with the Trump administration.

Two Iranian missiles shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752, killing all 176 people on board, including 57 Canadians. Iran has said that its Revolutionary Guard shot down the plane by mistake as the force braced for a possible military confrontation with the United States.

In four tweets posted Sunday evening, McCain expressed his anger at the loss of life stemming from a "needless, irresponsible series of events in Iran," while casting blame on U.S. President Donald Trump for escalating tensions with an "ill-conceived plan to divert focus from political woes."

The tweets sparked a broad conversation not only about the tragedy and where culpability lies but also the role of a corporate leader, who is responsible to shareholders, using the company's extended platform for his "personal reflections."

Rotchild said the CEO was courageous and authentic in conveying his vulnerability and empathy for a grieving colleague.

"I think it reflects what many Canadians are feeling right now," he told CBC News in an interview Tuesday. "I think, in some ways, he gave voice to that."

Maple Leaf Foods is a member of Canadian Business for Social Responsibility, an organization launched 25 years ago to help business think more sustainably.

He said McCain comments track with the company's outspokenness on issues like food security climate change — it's shifting its operations to be carbon neutral.

Rotchild urged more companies to follow his lead in taking stands, even if there might be repercussions.

Colin Butler/CBC News
Colin Butler/CBC News

"We hope more Canadian companies will choose to have a high profile and differentiate themselves by taking a stand on issues that really align with their values and purpose," he said.

"It makes them more human to consumers and investors that are discerning of companies and wondering whether they're going to be part of the new economy or not."

Some of the responses dismissed McCain's comments, telling him to stay in his lane, while others called for a boycott of Maple Leaf Foods and its subsidiaries.

Rotchild doubted there would be much of a significant negative impact on the company. He said the situation reminds him of Nike's Colin Kaepernick ad campaign in which the shoe giant built the entire campaign around the former NFL quarterback best known for spurring player protests over racial inequality and police brutality.

"In the short term, there were people who talked about burning their Nike shoes," he said. "In the long term it proved to be a profitable move for that company and they saw their sales increase."