Business and Ethics : Corporations Who Are Doing It Right

It’s common (and, it sometimes seems, “cool”) to believe that all businesses are just cold machines. It’s hardly very punk or modern to believe that corporate America could possibly do any good, is it? Aren’t all businesses after one thing and one thing only? That cold, hard, sweet cash money? They’ll do nothing but pursue profit, sweeping ethics and goodwill off of their desks like they were biscuit crumbs.

Let’s be honest: it’s healthy to hold a certain amount of skepticism when it comes to looking at businesses. There are many businesses out there that really do crush everyone and everything in the path between them and the almighty dollar. But it’s certainly not fair to tarnish all businesses with the same brush. After all, aren’t there news stories appearing quite often about businesses doing great things for people?

Corporate social responsibility

Did you know there was such a thing as corporate social responsibility? It’s not just an abstract, all-purpose term. It doesn’t just refer to the general responsibility we all have as human beings to be kind and considerate to one another. It’s a very specific term that refers to a given company’s willingness to do good. Corporate social responsibility (some refer to it as CSR – it even has its own alphabetization!) is a company recognizing that its practices may have effects on society as a whole. It’s recognizing that the power and profits of a corporation can used to actively do good.

By Triplebotline (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Corporate social responsibility tends to be used in the context of companies doing more than what is legally required of them. If your business is recycling all the waste it can recycle, for example, that’s hardly a heartwarming display of social good. You’re kind of legally compelled to do just that in most states! Regulators and environmental groups have standards that companies must follow lest they get penalized.

To really stand out as a business recognizing corporate social responsibility, you have to go above and beyond the call of duty. Don’t worry: it’s not like there aren’t plenty of big names from which you can learn a thing or two.

Not the usual suspects

Let’s go back to the cynicism towards corporations that I referred to earlier in the article. There are adherents to this “anti-business” stance who would look through history and condemn many. A name you may have heard thrown about during such conversation is Ford. The Ford Motor Company helped revolutionize how businesses, well, do business back in the 1920s. Some say they are responsible for the mass-production, massive-profit mindset of the past century. And that, of course, is a bad thing to many.

By Dave Parker (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

But is “Ford” still synonymous with “corporate evil”, as many cynics would claim? Is that justifiable? Not so much, actually. Have you ever heard of Ethisphere? The Ethisphere Institute is an institution who have helped define modern corporate ethics. They monitor thousands of companies across the globe, and every year they compile a list of the most ethical companies around. This list shouldn’t be a tell-all when it comes to ethical companies. There are only a finite number of spaces, which means that many highly ethical businesses do get left out. But businesses who make the list have distinguished themselves when it comes to their ethical behavior. And in the most recent list (2015), the Ford Motor Company made an appearance. Just as they had in 2014. And the four years before that.

It’s important not to jump to any conclusions when it comes to a big brand and their ethics. Massive profits and brand ubiquity doesn’t automatically mean the corporation are the bad guys!

Treatment of employees

One of the problems with judging the ethics of a company is that much of the potential misbehavior may take place behind closed doors. It’s not always as easy as Googling a company’s name and seeing if they’ve been destroying habitats or crushing small businesses. One of the most telling areas is in how a company treats its employees. A company and their employees, after all, can be two very different things!

What better example of corporate misbehavior is there than a company who treats their employees like dirt? And the strange thing about it is that treating employees well is good for business. Why wouldn’t you do it? Of course, to land in the headlines you need to really go the extra mile for your employees. Starbucks, for example, have plans to help thousands of their employees fund college education. That’s great ethics and great publicity! Meanwhile, Walmart’s well-documented abuse of employees is precisely the opposite on both fronts.

The environment

The environment is one of the biggest concerns facing businesses today. One of the biggest metrics when it comes to judging a company’s ethical standards are its “green” practices. Most of the damage done to the environment is perpetrated by big corporations, so the pressure is on for companies to help us fix this mess.

Though it’s not as publicized as it should be, the meat and dairy industry is the biggest contributor to environmental damage. Awareness is increasing, however. The onus on food companies to be environmentally-friendly. Companies such as Hampton Creek and Organic Valley are taking important steps, but not enough companies are following suit.

Some companies have trouble working out exactly what they can do to help the environment, outside of basic law compliance. If you’re a little short on such resources, then show solidarity with green companies. Spreading awareness of the need for environmental protection is an important thing for businesses to do! So voice support for the World Wildlife Fund. Like Hampton Creek on Facebook. Boast about your green practices on your website.

Laws against humanity

This section will be a shorter one as it covers an ongoing event.

By Timothy Vollmer [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps one of the prominent examples of CSR is the widespread response to anti-LGBT attitudes in North Carolina. You’ve probably heard about this! Bills are being proposed in North Carolina that will legalize discrimination towards LGBT people. It’s a sad state of affairs, but many of the world’s biggest businesses are rallying behind the LGBT community. Corporations such as eBay, Wells & Fargo, Starbucks, and PayPal have used boycotts and service denials to protest the bills. It’s estimated to have cost the North Carolina economy more than half a billion dollars.  

So remember: good business and good ethics are not enemies. They can often be brilliant bedfellows. Business owners: take note!

Editorial Team
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