Commerce, a key aspect of global culture, is shaped by information technologies, environmental angst and
economic flux. By tradition, business owners focused exclusively on financial outcomes. The new field of business ethics, however, has contributed ideas about the ‘greater good’ to owners, shareholders, consumers and other key players.
Companies that avoid paying taxes and reduce the wealth of the nation pose a dilemma. A change in values, resulting from current global actualities, appears to be in the works. Of course, many companies are already good citizens. US cellular, a small US cell phone company, pays a hefty 31% in taxes while Starbucks (where we can drink our coffees in good conscience!) pays 33%.
The ‘loopholes’ that corporations utilize to reduce taxes can simply be the tax exemptions or deductions that government puts into place to encourage or deter corporate behaviors. Or they may be the boondoggles resulting from intensive corporate lobbying… Where tax laws are abused reforms are indicated! In his article The Paradox of Corporate Taxes David Leonheardt writes:
Over the last five years, on the other hand, Boeing paid a total tax rate of just 4.5 percent, …. Southwest Airlines paid 6.3 percent. …. Yahoo paid 7 percent; Prudential Financial, 7.6 percent; General Electric, 14.3 percent. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/02/business/economy/02leonhardt.html?_r=1
Many consumers, and some businesses, agree that environment matters and that the ethos of sustainability needs to be incorporated into business practices. Green companies themselves bring wealth to their communities and, as well, are unlikely to relocate offshore! In a small town in Michigan, population 5000, Astraeus has found innovative ways of manufacturing wind components and were able to hire most of the one hundred workers let go as a result of the 2009 recession.
Green practices have also impacted many established companies. Cadbury was the first to mass market chocolate in the world using the brand Fairtrade cocoa, and brought the product into 30,000 UK stores. The world’s most sustainable companies according to Forbes are General Electric and PG & E Corp. (See table below).
|Company Name||Country||GICS Ind. Group||Global 100 Rank||Energy Prod. (US$)||Carbon Prod. (US$)||Water Prod. (US$)||Waste Prod. (US$)|
|General Electric Company||United States||Capital Goods||1||$3,004||
|PG & E Corp.||United States||Utilities||2||$26,749||
Ranking The World’s Most Sustainable Companies Helen Coster
The formal study of business ethics has grown over the decades. In their brilliant paper Towards a Unified Conception of Business Ethics Donaldson and Dundee argue that empiricism, the ‘is’ of business practices, are informed by ideas, drawn from the best thinkers over time, that ethics call prescriptive. No amount of factual accuracy “ can ever by itself add up to an ‘ought ’ ”. The authors suggest that the two viewpoints must be integrated to put “the ‘is’ and the ‘ought’ in symbiotic harmony”.
I believe that, despite today’s global uncertainties, and for reason of environmental issues and the advent of the information age, the ongoing search for a new and viable business ethic remains critical.