Since the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are like people, it seems only right that we create lists of best and worst corporate citizens, just as we have Nobel Prize winners and America’s Most Wanted. Fifty-eight companies made Corporate Responsibiility magazine’s 2011 Corporate Citizen Black List, which measures the amount of data, good or bad, that corporations deign to communicate to the public.
Of the 58 companies on the Black List, 32 were in the financial sectors; several others were from Energy, Consumer items, and Healthcare, among others. Companies on the black list include well-known names like Dreamworks, NASDAQ, and Madison Square Gardens, and lesser known but worrisome entries such as National Fuel Gas Company, Forest Oil Corp., BancorpSouth, Bio-Rad Laboratories, and investment manager Lazard Ltd. See the complete list here.
Researchers for the Black List gathered information on large public companies via company websites and other public sources; this was not an “opt in” exercise. One thousand companies (comprising the Russell 1000 index) were evaluated for their public disclosure of information in seven categories:
What makes a “good” corporation? Corporate Responsibiility magazine claims you have to start with transparency, that is, with letting your stakeholders (including the public) know how you operate in terms of financial, social and environmental factors, whether or not you’re always doing the right thing. The compiler of the list lists some examples of the questions on the survey:
“Does the company allow directors to serve on more than four boards? Does it reveal the results of energy conservation programs? Does it offer flexible spending accounts via its healthcare plan? Even if the answer is no to these and many other questions, any company can avoid the ‘Black List’ simply by answering one of the questions.”
These 58 are the least transparent, disclosing exactly zero information on 324 different measurements compiled by CR Magazine. It should be noted that just because a company does not disclose information doesn’t mean it is remiss in its operations. But not revealing anything is an appalling dismissal of the company’s place in society. In capitalism’s early days, corporations were established by the granting of charters, with the proviso that they operate in the public good. We’ve come a long way, baby.
On the upside, the magazine also compiled the 2011 100 Best Corporate Citizens list, whose top five are Johnson Controls, Campbell Soup Co., IBM, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Mattel.
We cannot change what we cannot see, so transparency is key. There is a long way to go, but each of us has tools to influence corporate behavior for the better. Through shareholder resolutions demanding ethical behavior; consumer campaigns, including boycotts and “buycotts;” and the tools of social media, individuals are able to express their displeasure with corporations that misbehave. Let’s hope, and work, so that the coming years’ corporate black lists gets smaller and smaller.
Photo: 02-04-09 © blackred via iStockphoto
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