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News flash! Events that changed big business policies

Events that changed big business policies

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Social media has flourished to the point where it can trigger businesses to change their policies—particularly in the event of a global "storm" of protests or controversy.

It remains to be seen whether the Volkswagen scandal will see a permanent shift in automakers' practices, but we already know such shifts are possible.

Take Cecil the Lion. The killing of Zimbabwe's favorite feline by a U.S. game hunter sparked protests, petitions and commemorative products across the world. Businesses responded, with Delta Air Lines banning the shipment of hunting trophies on its planes and United Airlines following suit.

So what other media storms have caused businesses to change their policies? CNBC takes a look.

By CNBC's Alexandra Gibbs. Posted on Tuesday November 10, 2015.


Confederate flag

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In June 2015, Dylann Roof was charged with gunning down nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, South Carolina. Before the shooting, Roof was photographed several times with a Confederate flag – an emblem of the southern states of the U.S. that some connect with white supremacy. This killing sparked demands that the flag should no longer be publicly displayed.

Consequently, the flag come down in South Carolina's statehouse grounds and top U.S. retailers, including Wal-Mart, Target, Amazon, Google and eBay, ceased selling flag-embellished products.

Read More Who will sell Confederate flags now?

Skinny mannequins

U.K. Equalities Minister Jo Swinson with Debenhams' plus-sized mannequins
Debenhams

U.K. fashion brand, Topshop, landed in hot water when a post on Twitter highlighting the skinniness of its shop mannequins "went viral" in October 2014. The Tweet in question featured a Topshop mannequin looking skeletal next to a slim British women of size 8-10 (U.S. size 4-6).

Topshop was branded "irresponsible" due to concerns that it was fostering unhealthy body attitudes among women. However, it was not until July 2015 that Topshop said it would ditch the mannequins, after another British customer, Laura Berry, posted a lengthy complaint on the brand's own Facebook page.

Other European retail brands, like Primark and La Perla, have also apologized for using ultra-thin mannequins. Plus, the Debenhams department store has introduced U.K. size-16 mannequins into its Oxford Street store in London, saying these represented the female body more positively.

Read More Matchstick legs? No thanks Topshop

Horsemeat

Employees of the DDCSPP conduct a verification of the origin of the meat in a supermarket in Besançon.
SEBASTIEN BOZON | AFP | Getty Images

European supermarkets were hit by the "horsemeat scandal" in 2013, when meat sold as beef was found to contain horsemeat. Tesco, IKEA, Wal-Mart-owned Asda, Dunnes Stores, Aldi, Lidl and Iceland were all found to be miss-selling equine meat.

In response to the scare, IKEA temporarily withdrew meatball sales in the U.K. and other European countries, and now subjects its stores to food-safety audits. Asda and Tesco also stepped up their food testing, with the latter introducing a DNA-testing system and quarterly reports on the constituents of its products, which are publicly available.


Food waste

amanaimagesRF | amana images | Getty Images

Supermarkets and even governments are responding to concerns about food waste, as campaigners call on retailers to embrace "ugly food" and items narrowly passed their sell-by-dates that would otherwise get thrown out.

The U.K.'s Tesco supermarket chain has announced this year a trial, whereby it will donate unsold food to charities, partnering up with FareShare, which also works with Sainsbury's and Asda. In addition, this May, France's National Assembly voted to ban supermarkets from binning unsold food, saying that they must instead give leftovers to charities.

Read More Food: Love me tender, love me…ugly

Artist royalties

Taylor Swift has decided to put her '1989' album on Apple Music.
Getty Images

Taylor Swift scored a major victory for musicians in June when Apple agreed to start paying artists' royalties during free trials on its music-streaming service. This came within a day of receiving an open letter from the pop star threatening to hold her album back from Apple Music.

Swift's triumphing of the issue—she also pulled her music from Spotify—helped raise the issue of artist royalties in the public consciousness.

Tidal, a streaming service that launched in March with Swift's backing, has emphasized its commitment to paying artists fair royalties. In addition, the global record industry has established Friday as a set-day for world releases in a bid to cut down on piracy.

Read More Apple U-turns after Taylor Swift slams music policy

Fast food

Morgan Spurlock of the documentary 'Super Size Me', where he ate only McDonald's for 30 days, shown with a Big Mac, 26 May 2004.
The Sydney Morning Herald | Fairfax Media | Getty Images

The high fat, salt and sugar content of food on sale in restaurants and supermarket chains has been a hot topic since the 2000s. In 2004, award-winning filmmaker, Morgan Spurlock, highlighted America's obesity problem with his documentary "Super Size Me," for which he ate only McDonald's-bought food for 30-days straight.

The documentary won praise at 2004's Sundance Festival and in March that year, McDonald's said it was phasing out supersize fries and drinks— although the company told the Associated Press it had "nothing to do" with the movie.

In 2005, McDonald's introduced salads onto its menu and has continued expanding into more nutritious menu options. In addition, rival Burger King revamped its salad and low-carb options in early 2004 and dropped trans-fat oils in 2008. Fast food giants now often display nutritional information on products.


Toy guns

Toy guns are displayed after being confiscated at airport security checkpoints at the JFK International Airport in New York City.
Getty Images

In November 2014, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was killed after a Cleveland officer mistook his toy gun for a real one, sparking outrage and calls for toy guns to be removed from retailers' shelves.

Following an investigation, New York State Regulators said that five retailers had violated public safety laws by selling illegal imitation firearms. Retailers, including Wal-Mart and Amazon, agreed in August this year to remove any realistic-looking toy guns from their shelves and pay $300,000 each to regulators. Many other retailers also received cease-and-desist letters.

Angora fur

Activists of animal rights group PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) stage a protest against the sale of angora items outside a GAP outlet in Hong Kong on January 8, 2014.
PHILIPPE LOPEZ | AFP | Getty Images

Late in 2013, animal rights organization, PETA, published an undercover investigation showcasing how angora rabbits are farmed for fur. The graphic footage went viral and campaigners asked fashion retailers to cease stocking angora items.

This proved successful, with over 80 fashion brands and retailers no longer selling angora, including Calvin Klein, Forever 21, H&M and Lacoste.