Block, Inc. is an American multinational conglomerate providing an array of services through various subsidiaries. Perhaps its best-known brand, Square, aids small businesses in accepting credit card payments. Cash App allows users and businesses to transfer money to one another, Tidal offers a subscription music service, and so on.
Co-founded by Jack Dorsey in 2009, the company had been known solely as Square until late 2021.
Transparency and clarity of terms and services are especially important for a company with as many crucial offerings as Block. Unfortunately, the corporation falls short on both counts. Instead of protecting the ability of its customers, employees, and fellow citizens to live according to their religious and political beliefs, Block’s policies force its stakeholders to operate under a cloud of imminent cancelation and punishment.
As a result, the company scored just 9 percent overall on the inaugural Viewpoint Diversity Score Business Index, which benchmarks corporate respect for religious and political diversity in their products/services as well as in their workforce culture and governance.
What went into Block’s overall score, and how can the company correct course? We’ll answer those questions below.
Block tallied just a 5 percent score in the Market section, which evaluates companies’ respect for freedom of expression and belief for its consumers and vendors, as well as transparency in policy enforcement.
In addition to the specific areas of concern noted below, Block’s low score on this section reflects its decision to ignore questions from shareholders via the survey portion of the 2022 Business Index. Publicly traded companies have a fiduciary responsibility to provide transparency to their shareholders, so Block should be forthcoming with answers as to how it respects the fundamental freedoms of speech and religion of its diverse customer base, workforce, and other stakeholders.
In terms of specific policies, Block’s reliance on unclear and imprecise terms is another major red flag for its customer base. Under its Payment Services policy, for example, the company prohibits “hate or harmful products.” In providing a definition for these terms, Block continues to use vague and subjective terms: “Hate is the promotion of violence or discrimination or dehumanization against a person or group of people based on a protected class as defined by Square.” These terms should be replaced by a policy that equally protects every person and group, rather than only those groups favored by the company.
The built-in uncertainty of these vague policies leaves Block users—many of whom are small business owners—at risk for imminent cancelation. And while Block does promise to “take reasonable steps to notify [users] of termination or other types of Service changes,” the lack of specificity in regards to timeline and process forces Block users to access their services with the understanding that they could be booted from the platform without warning.
More warning signs in the Market section include Block’s omission of any reference to protecting external stakeholders’ freedom of expression or belief in its CSR and ESG-related documents. Block also stops short of confirming on its website that it discloses all guidelines, policies, and standards for denying or restricting service; though, to its credit, Block does not hold any publicly available policies that impose viewpoint-based restrictions on speech.
For the workplace, Block scored a total of 10 percent—exactly equal to the general average for the companies in this section of the 2022 Business Index. This category scores companies on how well they promote and protect the religious and ideological freedoms of their employees, both within and outside the workplace.
One major positive for Block is its explicit prohibition of religious discrimination in the workplace. Religious belief and practice are central to the lives of many Americans, and Block’s protection of religious diversity in the workplace is commendable. Relatedly, Block exceeds many other companies in its offering of faith-specific employee resource groups, allowing employees to connect meaningfully with their co-religionists. Companies should all strive for an environment where employees’ sincerely held religious beliefs can both be tolerated and celebrated at work.
In a similar vein, Block should strive toward protecting both religious and ideological diversity for their employees. Based on publicly accessible information, Block is not known to affirm, support, or protect viewpoint diversity in the workplace. Additionally, due to the company’s non-response to the survey portion of the Business Index, many questions remain unanswered, including whether employee training includes divisive concepts like those derived from Critical Race Theory.
Block can improve its score in the future by answering the survey portion of the Business Index and by committing to the protection and promotion of viewpoint diversity in its workplace. Its inclusion of faith-specific ERGs is certainly laudable, as is its explicit protection against religious discrimination, but a few small tweaks can push Block beyond merely the middle of the pack.
Block scored 17 percent in Public Square, slightly trailing the overall average for companies in this category. The Public Square category focuses on whether companies publicly support or undermine freedom of speech and religion within the public square. Beyond how companies interact with their consumers and with their employees, it is important to promote a culture and legal outcomes favorable to religious and ideological freedom. Actions considered include support for candidates, laws, or litigation in support of or anathema to these freedoms.
Block has supported the Equality Act, a piece of federal legislation that would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as protected classes to nondiscrimination laws. Despite its promises, the Equality Act would increase discrimination against many people. It would coerce uniformity of thought and action relating to beliefs about marriage, sex, and what it means to be male and female. It would also harm female athletes, forcing them to compete against men in athletic events and to share private spaces with men. In addition, it would harm religious freedom by forcing people who willingly serve everyone to promote messages and celebrate events that conflict with their beliefs.
Block can improve its score in the future by, again, responding to shareholders via the survey portion of the Business Index, and by adopting model policies such as the “Pledge to Respect Freedom of Expression and Belief through Corporate Advocacy and Political Engagement.”
Block can improve its score by taking steps to remove vague, arbitrary language from its policies, promoting religious and ideological diversity in the workplace, and making a public commitment to support the fundamental freedoms of speech, expression, and religion. Block could also participate in the survey portion of the Business Index to provide much-needed transparency to shareholders.