Posts tagged with: business ethics

With the mountain of books and articles that have been written about business ethics, one wonders why nothing much has been written on what we might call shareholder ethics. I’m thinking of religious shareholder activists such as As You Sow and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. As it turns out, these groups trade on the moral status of their respective members to further agendas seldom related to matters of religious faith.

Instead, the clergy and religious in shareholder activist groups dedicate themselves to temporal causes of a distinctly left-of-center stripe, including stifling corporate political speech in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. According to Acton’s Rev. Robert Sirico:

Every annual meeting season, we watch as a small group of activist groups on the left such as As You Sow and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility submit proxy resolutions that demand disclosures of corporate public policy expenditures. This is done, these groups claim, in furtherance of a more ‘just and sustainable world.’ In fact, such resolutions are designed to first bully corporations into disclosing lobbying activities and then promptly turn the tables by conducting aggressive campaigns in the press to shame them. (more…)

253877_5_Acton’s president and co-founder, Rev. Robert Sirico, recently wrote a piece for Real Clear Religion about corporations and social justice activism. He warns that the religious left’s attempts to stifle free speech in corporate boardrooms  would certainly negatively impact our political life.

Every annual meeting season, we watch as a small group of activist groups on the left such as As You Sow and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility submit proxy resolutions that demand disclosures of corporate public policy expenditures. This is done, these groups claim, in furtherance of a more “just and sustainable world.” In fact, such resolutions are designed to first bully corporations into disclosing lobbying activities and then promptly turn the tables by conducting aggressive campaigns in the press to shame them.

But the religious underpinnings for such arguments are spurious. The argument always goes that corporations have money and the poor and disadvantaged (always “disenfranchised” from the political process) do not. Therefore, according to this logic, it follows that it’s unfair that corporations are allowed to make public policy expenditures to unduly influence the political process. Curiously, opponents of such spending are often themselves corporate entities (albeit non-profit entities) that spend large sums of money to voice their own opinions. (more…)

Hobby-Lobby-StoreWhen the Supreme Court ruled on the Hobby Lobby case, the near universal reaction by liberals was that it was a travesty of epic proportion. But as self-professed liberal law professor Brett McDonnell argues, the left should embrace the Hobby Lobby decision since it supports liberal values:

The first question was: Can for-profit corporations invoke religious liberty rights under RFRA? The court answered yes. HBO’s John Oliver nicely expressed the automatic liberal riposte, parodying the idea that corporations are people. It is very funny stuff.

It is not, however, especially thoughtful stuff. The court does not argue that corporations are just like real people. Rather, it argues that people often exercise faith collectively, in organizations. Allowing those organizations to assert religious-liberty rights protects the liberty of the persons acting within them. The obvious example is churches, usually legally organized as nonprofit corporations.

The real issue is not whether corporations of any type can ever claim protection under RFRA — sometimes they can. The issue is whether for-profit corporations can ever have enough of a religious purpose to claim that protection.

To me, as a professor of corporate law, liberal denial of this point sounds very odd. In my world, activists and liberal professors (like me) are constantly asserting that corporations can and should care about more than just shareholder profit. We sing the praises of corporate social responsibility.

Well, Hobby Lobby is a socially responsible corporation, judged by the deep religious beliefs of its owners. The court decisively rejects the notion that the sole purpose of a for-profit corporation is to make money for its shareholders. This fits perfectly with the expansive view of corporate purpose that liberal proponents of social responsibility usually advocate — except, apparently, when talking about this case.

McDonnell is right, of course. Support for religious liberty should transcend partisan political lines. And it used to be an issue that was championed by liberals. The fact that religious liberty is now despised and denigrated reveals a sudden, perhaps irrevocable shift in the nature of progressivism in America.

(Via: Rod Dreher)

Radio Free ActonWhat is the end – the goal – of business anyway? Is it to merely maximize a profit or to do good, or some balance between the two? And what exactly does it mean for a business to “do good”? And if I happen to be a person of deep religious faith, do I have to check my faith at the boardroom door? What influence should my faith have on the exchanges I engage in day to day, and what are the practical implications of ethics on how I conduct myself in business relationships? Andrew Abela is the 2009 recipient of Acton’s Novak Award. He has just co-authored a very important book on the subject of the intersection of ethics and morality with business: A Catechism for Business: Tough Ethical Questions & Insights From Catholic Teaching (The Catholic University of America Press). He speaks with Acton’s Paul Edwards on this edition of Radio Free Acton.

burritoBusiness, we are told, is supposed to have a conscience to survive. For instance, Chad Brooks at Fox Business says that businesses have to be “socially conscience” in order to attract customers:

Young consumers consider social responsibility most when shelling out big bucks for products such as automobiles, computers, consumer electronics and jewelry, the study found. Specifically, more than 40 percent of consumers under 30 consider social issues when buying a big-ticket item, compared to just 34 percent who factor in those issues when buying everyday items, like gasoline and food.

(more…)

Mary Ann Glendon makes an excellent point about the outcry for more corporate responsibility while government is simultaneously stripping away the rights of religious conscience of businesses. In The Boston Globe, Glendon notes,

The simple truth is that if we want businesses, incorporated or not, to be responsible for their actions, they must be treated as having some moral agency. And with moral agency and accountability must go the freedom to act in accordance with conscience.

The push to ghettoize freedom of religion solely into the houses of worship is of course a disturbing trend. When the religious rights of civil society are pushed aside and made subservient to the state, we get not the church serving as conscience, but the state ruling tyrannically over man. “Once religion is reduced to nothing more than privatized conscience, the public square has only two actors in it—the state and the individual,” says Richard John Neuhaus.

Read the entire article.

Readers following my series of blog posts on shareholder proxy resolutions submitted by religious groups such as As You Sow and the Interfaith Council of Corporate Responsibility already know these resolutions have little to do with issues of faith. In fact, an overwhelming majority of these resolutions concern corporate speech and attempts to stifle it.

Your shareholders want to know more about your political spending. Really.

Your shareholders want to know more about your political spending. Really.

AYS and ICCR – as well as a host of other religious shareholders – submit proposals drafted by Bruce Freed, head of the Center for Political Accountability. Freed’s CPA and the Wharton Business School’s Zicklin Center, readers will recall, issued its annual index late last month. My last post detailed in part the wrongheadedness of shareholders pushing a political agenda at the expense of their fellow shareholders. However, I anticipate most readers require a bit more than your lowly scribe’s word that the CPA-Zicklin Index not only inflates the results of its shareholder resolutions but as well operates on behalf of groups more interested in shutting down corporate political speech.

The Center for Competitive Politics, a First Amendment nonprofit think tank located in Alexandria, Va., brings more firepower to arguments I’ve already made regarding the efforts of CPA and the proxy shareholders for whom Mr. Freed drafts resolutions. Regarding the CPA-Zicklin Index, CCP issued a statement by CCP Chairman Brad Smith, former Federal Election Commission Chairman:

To look at the CPA-Zicklin Index as a measure of ‘best corporate practices’ is like asking a wolf to describe ‘best practices’ for sheep … Corporations have an obligation to do what is in the best interest of their shareholders, not comply with the demands of a non- profit that opposes speech by the business community. (more…)

The 2013 “CPA-Zicklin Index of Corporate Policy Accountability and Disclosure” was issued Tuesday by the allegedly “nonpartisan” Center for Corporate Political Accountability – the “CPA” of the report’s title lest readers mistakenly read it as the objective analysis of a certified public accountant. The CPA referenced here is the organization operated by Bruce Freed, which shepherds proxy shareholder resolutions by left leaning “religious” shareholder activist groups as As You Sow and the Interfaith Council on Corporate Responsibility.

I haven’t taken the time for a deep-dive analysis of the report, but will do so most assuredly in the next few days. However, an initial reading of the Index’s Executive Summary must suffice for the moment. In short … poppycock. And piffle. Even preposterous.

Allow me to set the record straight. Ten years ago, CPA “began engaging corporations to voluntarily provide disclosure and oversight of political spending,” asserts Mr. Freed – if by “voluntarily” Mr. Freed means mounting a campaign of deceit against corporate political spending employing all means necessary to embarrass or otherwise shame companies to bend to the will of leftist, post-Citizens United, “corporations/bad. unions/good” ideology.

Mr. Freed and the faith-based shareholders for whom he writes proxy resolutions remain in a tizzy regarding those companies that spend lobbying or other political cash on causes and campaigns with which the left disapproves. In an environment of growing Leviathan and concomitant increase in regulatory restrictions emanating from government agencies, companies have little choice to ensure their own and employees’ survival as well as the profitability of shareholders than to engage in the political process. Indeed, to voluntarily withdraw from these policy debates would be nothing less than reckless disregard for political reality today.

So let’s break this down further: Unions spend members’ dues on political causes that tilt left whereas corporations spend company proceeds on causes that tilt right. Union spending rarely is called into question as it’s a given they’ll spend it on liberal candidates and agendas. Woe be unto those corporations, however, which endeavor to engage politically – even  privately – in the interest of their companies, employees, customers and shareholders. (more…)

Café con leche - Milchkaffee (CC)“Who could be against fairness?” Victor Claar asked this question at Acton University last month. He and Travis Hester gave a talk titled, “Fair Trade Versus Free Trade” with their focus on the coffee industry. They explained what the fair trade movement is, evaluated its effectiveness, and explored ways for caring people to help coffee growers overcome poverty.

Before looking at the fair trade movement, it is important to note that coffee is what economists call an inelastic good. That means that if the price of coffee increases, the quantity demanded will not decrease by a lot. Claar puts it simply: “If coffee prices rise, coffee drinkers will probably buy less coffee, but probably not much less.” Spikes occur frequently in coffee prices due to bad weather and the delicacy of Arabica coffee plants. The price of coffee is volatile and is, according to fair trade advocates, too low. (more…)

In a May 28, Huffington Post article, Rev. Seamus P. Finn, OMI, exhibits a woeful lack of economic knowledge. In most cases members of the clergy can be forgiven somewhat for getting it so utterly and completely wrong. After all, few people go into the ministry because they’re fascinated with things like lean manufacturing techniques or monetary policy. But in this instance Finn must be taken to the proverbial woodshed for a lesson in what truly benefits the world’s poor.

Why Finn and why now, you ask? Most important, because he represents the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, and represents the Oblates as a board member at the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. He also serves on the executive committee of the International Interfaith Investment Group (IIIG). From this resume, one might gather that he is influential with the faithful on financial and business matters.

PowerBlog readers who have been following my series of posts on religious-based shareholder activism these past few months may recall my coverage of several ICCR proxy resolutions submitted to a host of companies this spring. I called attention to these resolutions because they draw more from leftist ideology than they do from centuries of deeper Christian thinking on social problems.

Now comes Finn with a HuffPo piece linking ICCR and IIIG initiatives with recent statements made by Pope Francis. While the current pope is no fan of capitalism – read about his views of the market economy here and here on the PowerBlog – Finn apparently despises it outright. (more…)