Turning the Tide: How Corporate Social Responsibility Just Scored a Major Victory for Animal Rights.

sea-world-profits-dropBy Michael Roche

Three years ago the documentary Blackfish was released to the applauds of the animal rights groups but much to the dismay of SeaWorld investors and employees. Many of the marine biologists employed by the entertainment goliath were asked to publically comment on reports of widespread mistreatment, abuse and outright inhumane treatment of the company’s main attraction. In the months following the documentary’s release, the net income of the SeaWorld Corporation plummeted 84% from second quarter 2014 to second quarter of 2015.[1]
             To add insult to injury, SeaWorld’s dastardly actions were not confined to its parks or to its captive marine life. SeaWorld’s public image was once again under a microscope after allegations surfaced that SeaWorld executives ordered their employees to spy on members of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). Without much comment, SeaWorld’s CEO confirmed the allegations as true simply stating that their corporate policy towards animal activists has since changed.[2]
               With profits way down and  increased attention from investors and regulators alike, SeaWorld saw no other option than to embrace the decades-long call for the ethical treatment of the orca whale and the other marine life featured in their shows. In November of 2015, SeaWorld announced its plans to phase out its main attraction, the orca shows, over the course of the next several years. The announcement was followed by a decision to discontinuing the orca breeding program in the spring of 2016 and SeaWorld’s stock price has since soared. However the calls by activist investors to replace the entire board are far from over.[3]
                Activist investor Greg Taxin, of Luma Asset Management, who controls about four percent SeaWorld outstanding stock, said the company has made the right choice by ending orca-whale breeding program. Still, Taxin has called for SeaWorld to replace all its board members as many investors and animal rights groups are still calling for a complete release of all captive marine life. Taxin wouldn’t say whether he had nominated replacements for any of the company’s 10 directors but we will find out soon enough at the company’s shareholder meeting later this summer. [4]
                So what is actually behind SeaWorld’s recent changes?  Has SeaWorld finally seen the light and choosing to phase out their main attraction because of their social responsibility to do so? Or is this response driven by the same factor as everything else on Wall Street, increased profits? Chances are the slow but progressive response by SeaWorld is the result of a board of directors who know their number could be up if they do not recognize the social costs of their antiquated business plan.  At least for now it seems that SeaWorld is looking to rebrand its tarnished image and corporate social responsibility has won the day.

[1] http://www.ibtimes.com/seaworld-profits-plunge-84-blackfish-controversy-still-swirls-2043180

[2] http://time.com/3987998/seaworlds-profits-drop-84-after-blackfish-documentary/

[3] http://money.cnn.com/2016/02/25/news/companies/seaworld-peta-spying/

[4] http://www.orlandosentinel.com/business/tourism/os-seaworld-future-20160401-story.html

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