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Corporate Responsibility: Looking Out For All Stakeholders - Executive Leadership Articles

Corporate Responsibility: Looking Out For All Stakeholders

Executive Leadership Articles

Corporate Responsibility: Looking Out For All Stakeholders

Despite popular belief, P. T. Barnum probably never uttered the phrase most attributed to him. Barnum was neither citing the gullibility of the public or espousing his model for success; rather, it was likely a business rival named David Hannum, who claimed that Barnum was charging customers for a glimpse at a giant--a faked copy of the giant Hannum had been exhibiting. When Barnum’s patrons continued to pay even after both Hannum’s and Barnum’s giants were proven fake, Hannum (supposedly) criticized Barnum and his clientele by uttering, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

The concept that the market is out there for anyone able to exploit it is certainly one way to pursue profit, and it apparently worked for Barnum and Hannum, but wringing as much money as possible from customers is an idea whose time has passed, according to Robert Girling, author of The Good Company (Hill Press, 2012), who adds, “The idea of the corporation that cares only about the bottom line and profit maximization is as outdated as the typewriter.” Girling profiles sixteen companies around the world who strive to be “Good Companies,” mindful of profit but equally mindful of the well-being of their employees, customers, local communities, global communities, and the planet itself. Among them are

  • The office supply company that donates more than 75% of its annual profit to charities voted upon by the company’s employees and customers,
  • the industrial machinery manufacturer whose employees set their own hours and pay,
  • the clothing manufacturer who created an executive position called Leader of Social Consciousness so that its overseas factories could be monitored for adherence to human rights concerns,
  • the international cosmetics company who has agreements with (and provides oversight for) forest villages for the sustainable, responsible harvesting of the raw materials it uses in its non-petroleum, non-animal-based products, and
  • the company whose products themselves are designed to be affordable, long-lasting, and lifesaving, focused on the elimination of malaria and the accessibility of clean drinking water in developing countries.

Each of these companies, Girling repeatedly points out, is financially successful, not a charity but a business with a responsibility to its stakeholders. The difference is that they include not only investors among their stakeholders, but employees, customers, and the environment as well.

The non-profit organization B Lab certifies companies all over the world as “B Corporations” (the B stands for Beneficial), who strive “to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.” As an independent entity, B Lab can certify (or not certify) corporations which meet its high standards, listing over a thousand of them on its searchable website as validation separating pretenders from the real thing. Many of them dominate their markets; most have merely found that place where business success meets social responsibility, proving Girling’s assertion that “eighty to ninety percent of consumers say, ‘If you can prove it doesn’t cost any more and it benefits my community, I’ll buy from you.’”

Good companies are embracing the concept of the “triple bottom line,” which many summarize as “Planet, People, Profit,” as the new standard for success.

 

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