My teenage daughter recently spoke to me about an ethical dilemma she was facing—reconciling the fact that a musical artist, whose songs she greatly enjoys has been accused of sexual misconduct. Can she still listen to his music (although not purchasing “merch” and attending concerts) while still holding true to her values?
This is increasingly becoming a concern for all consumers as we can often choose products and services from companies that align with our values and avoid those that don’t. But where do we draw the line, and can we count on what companies reveal to us?
Companies throughout the country are attempting to demonstrate their ability to maintain profitability while aligning their values with those of their customers and employees. Many companies have taken on DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) initiatives yet find it challenging to make this more than simply checking a box and adding new words to their website.
As I wrote about in a previous blog post, organizational values need to be consistent between what is outward facing to customers and what is practiced internally by employees. These are the core values an organization currently holds as opposed to aspirational values that it is seeking to reach.
Just shy of 90 years after the USA declared independence with the promise that all men are created equal, the last enslaved Black Americans were informed that they are free. It would be another 156 years before Juneteenth officially became a federal holiday as this recent development coincided with nationwide protests following the police killings of Black Americans, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
Companies today are attempting to deal with many social concerns very differently. Oil companies find they can no longer stand on the sidelines denying our climate crisis. But many are simply “greenwashing” to appear like they are acting in the best interests of the planet when it’s clear that they are not. Greenwashing is not new as it started in the 1960s when hotels asked their guests to reuse towels to help save the environment. Clearly these hotels were saving money on laundry costs yet never passed this savings on to their guests.
Both Target and Bud Light have faced boycotts over their marketing efforts toward the LGBTQ community. Last month Bud Light’s sales were down 23% and Target’s share price dropped 20%, although this may be partially due to concerns over inflation. Other companies such as Kohl’s, Southwest Airlines and Lego are also facing heat for their advertising and promotions of Pride events. Clearly, customers have an impact.
To what extent should we as consumers, employees and shareholders hold corporations responsible for matching our core values? That is, of course, an individual’s decision, but our decisions can collectively have a huge influence on how corporations conduct themselves.
If these organizational values are important to where you shop, work, and invest, then it’s important to determine whether the values they publish are core values versus merely aspirational ones. It’s also important to understand whether what they preach squares with what they practice.
While it’s difficult for companies to thread the needle regarding maximizing profits with societal concerns, I believe it is exactly what we should demand from them.
Even Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman wrote that “. . . there is one and only one social responsibility of business to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays in the rules of the game, which is to say, engage in open and free competition, without deception or fraud.”
It is our responsibility to hold companies accountable when in their efforts to increase profits they break rules, build a monopoly, or seek to deceive us. If we choose not to hold them accountable for this and our government does not regulate them, it is our collective peril.