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What do the G20 protests mean for big companies worried about their reputations?

Passing through Liverpool Street station at nine this morning there was little sign of the impending protests that are planned for later today.

One character with a rucksack and hoodie was being idly watched by a lone “Community Support Officer” (fake police we have in the UK to scare kids). But apart from that, there wasn’t much action.

Later on today, though, it will be a different story. The BBC reports on the plans here.

I met up with a CSR student, Emily, who takes the course I teach at Birkbeck last night. She described the scene at Saturday’s march through London of 35,000 protestors as a bit confused. Some banners she wanted to be marching next to, some she did not.

The point is that the protestors are a real motley collection of folk, concerned about many different issues.

In the past few years protests have generally been a lot more focsed. Stop the War was the main mantra, since the anti-globalisation protests died down considerably since 9/11.

But now general protesting is back. This is not such a bad thing. While single issue campaigning can be, and often is, more effective, general protests can get bigger headlines.

And around the G20, they certainly are. All major news outlets are giving them considerable coverage.

Here is the City, an ‘insiders’ website on London’s finance center, has some amusing stories too.

Big companies are less surprised by protests than they used to be. Back in 1999 it was more of a surprise when say, a McDonald’s was trashed by a mob.

These days companies are more used to being targeted. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be concerned. And I’m not just talking about the safety of employees.

The other, broader issue, is the reputation of big business. Here’s a question for readers: Do you think ‘big business’ in general has suffered from the corporate governance meltdown in the banking sector?

It’s obvious that those non-financial firms making big job cuts, such as 3M and Sony have had some major issues in places such as France.

But what about the wider ‘big business’ community? How bad is the reputational damage?

I suspect it’s a lot worse than most executives think it is.

Many probably think that beyond the short term job cuts and clampdowns on spending, most of the anger is directed at the banks.

This is largely true. But I don’t think other large companies are getting away scot free, at all.

I’m interested in what readers think about this. Just how bad is the reputational damage for others? Has some of the ‘good work’ done on reputations by community work and CSR become unravelled?

G20 PROTEST UPDATE: 10.50 am. A colleague has just come from Liverpool Street Station. 20 photographers and 50 police are surrounding about 20 protestors. It’s a start…

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