Good companies

Are big Canadian companies good citizens? That term encompasses many things, such as corporate social responsibility to the community, treating the work­force properly, making sure that suppliers maintain acceptable working conditions, and that customers are treated with proper deference.
Corporate social responsibility has become an important issue recently in the boardrooms of many of our organizations, and in foreign countries too. Some firms now are beginning to pledge to follow policies that define best practice in everything from the diversity of their workforce to human rights and the environment.
Criticism has come from several economists who object to the intrusion of these factors as obligations of companies. Milton Friedman, a prominent U. S. economist and exponent of almost absolute freedom from government regulation, argues that the only obligation of business is to increase profits, that anything else is foolishly catering to political correctness.
Others take a different tack. They claim that businesses attempting to be good citizens may be trying to divert governments from the task of dispassionately solving social problems. That is rather far-fetched, but they adhere strictly to the view that only governments should be the source for setting the rules that ensure that companies do not act against the interests of the community.
Still, some businesses are recognizing the importance of being good citizens. They are beginning to use "green" packaging. Part-time employees more frequently are given the benefits of full-time workers. Different companies are reviewing the working standards of their suppliers. On the other hand, there is the corrosive political power of corporate money. The activities of various companies during the free-trade debate was unconscionable. In workers’ pay envelopes numerous companies put in a note asserting that a vote against free trade would jeopardize their jobs.
Business leaders should have a duty to make certain that the benefits of economic growth are distributed equally. Hence, there should not be a big disparity between the pay of top echelons and the rest of the workforce. Otherwise, worker resentment is sure to follow.
Numbers of companies are using the cloak of responsibility to fool the public into believing that problems are being addressed, this in order to prevent government reforms. Otherwise, the government can shame companies for price gouging, misleading claims, or generally bad behaviour.
Thoughtful management should lead their organizations to be customer-friendly. For example, the staffs of chartered banks, some retailers, and Toyota are very co-operative, but the service departments of other automobile companies act as if customers were a nuisance.
Clearly, enlightened self-interest should mean that companies be good citizens in every sense of the word.

Bruce Whitestone