Archive for March 15th, 2010

I’ve seen this add a few times on my telly – a group of employers asking people to write to some politician to get him to vote against the proposed health care reform. I’m not going to give this specific group any more free time but the NY Times has an article on the broader topic of businesses using their dough to stop health care reform. It’s irritated the living hell out of me. To those businesses and business associations behind these efforts, would you mind answering the following few questions to help me dig deeper into you as a responsible company and/or business association?

1. Could you please spend this money on providing your workers with decent health care?

I am always amused by companies being able to spend so much money to lobby for a cause they so strongly belief in but not always spend the same amount of money on a good cause – helping their workers get good health care in this case. It’s not unique to health care though. Many companies spend millions of dollars to keep their interests riding high. Sometimes this is a good thing because it has broader societal and/or environmental benefits as well. For instance, a company that I admire but that will remain nameless used the need for health care reform as their first time dipping their toes into the lobbying field. In this case they were (and remain) worried that the spiralling cost of health care will undermine one of their fundamental commitments – providing all their employees with decent health care. They lobbied because their commitment to their workers could be under threat in the long-term. Good on them. But so often companies do not lobby for something that can be seen as a broader societal good. Vested interests and an irrational fear of change drive their lobbying agendas instead of putting the money towards addressing those issues that requires attention. Do remember that most governments do not write policies and legislation purely for the fun of it but rather because something is dramatically wrong. Lobbying against it will not solve the problem. It will only extend the pain until it becomes unbearable and then we all pay. Please ask yourself a very simple question the next time you want to lobby on another “anti” platform – Am I being part of the solution or not? Come up with solutions instead of being anti change. Being negative might be easier but it is not a sign of a responsible company. Either in CSR and sustainability or business in general. Business thrive by making things happen and finding new solutions (through products, services, operations etc.) Unfortunately the general business approach to lobbying undermines this fundamental business principle.

2. Could you please stand up and name yourself?

Why do so many companies hide behind alliances and business associations? They are first to claim they are so green or they do so much for their local communities but when it comes to the lobbying stuff they tend to be quiet and hide behind an association where they can huddle without being seen. Why? Is it because you are not 100% convinced that you are right? Or that you do believe that maybe society will see (now or in the future) that your lobbying position is actually not in their interest? In this case it is very convenient to hide behind an alliance because your own workers might actually see that you support something that is NOT in their interest. You’ll notice that these ads are by employers and not by employees. Why? Because employees will benefit from these changes while employers are arguing that they won’t. Convenient isn’t it? It’s easy for the employer to stand up and take a stand while hiding behind a wall of secrecy called “alliance”. Guess what? Most US employees do not have the same luxury. Their alliance is the union and most employers fight the unions with every ounce of power they have. So it is okay for employers to be free to join any “union” they want but not for the employees. Double standards if I have ever seen one and not a sign of a responsible company or business association. It’s not only health care though. It’s almost every issue where society or the environment might be threatened by the status quo. Climate change… Why are some companies sponsoring critics to argue against climate change without making any scientific arguments of their own in public? Maybe because being open and honest about what you believe in might not be popular. No one ever said transparency will be easy but that is the cornerstone of a responsible company. Own what you believe in please. Don’t be ashamed of what you believe in. Come out the closet and be loud and proud of who you are even if others might not agree with you. That is a sign of responsibility.

3. Could you please find a name that works?

The organization that fronts these businesses and business association pulled one of the oldest tricks in the book – get a snappy name no one can argue with… “Employers for a Healthy Economy.” As if anyone who do not agree with them are arguing against a healthy economy. It’s just greenwashing with another name. Claiming one thing when really you can’t claim this to be unique or even true. It is misleading and does not deal with the issue you are tackling. It would be like a single car manufacturer starting an alliance called “Manufacturers for Safe Cars.” Duh! Please use a name that is relevant and true and not something that plays into populist hands or misleading. Misleading people and false advertising – not signs of a responsible company or business association.

4. Could you please keep better company?

A good way of judging whether an initiative is looking at who are the alliance partners. Many stood out but one in particular… the US Chamber of Commerce. I won’t go into details of how many companies have left the US Chamber of Commerce because of their out-of-touch position on climate change but their position on health care reform is interesting to say the least. As a conservative lobbying association one would predictable expect the Chamber to be against health care reform – but they go further than just being against reform. The Washington Post reported in November 2009 on how the Chamber “proposes spending $50,000 to hire a ‘respected economist’ to study the impact of health-care legislation … would have on jobs and the economy.” That’s the nice part – nothing wrong with a study to inform us. But what if they already decided what the outcome should be? In the email exchanges they made their intentions clear and assumed the outcome of the study by saying that “the economist will then circulate a sign-on letter to hundreds of other economists saying that the bill will kill jobs and hurt the economy. We will then be able to use this open letter to produce advertisements, and as a powerful lobbying and grass-roots document.” Nice… Sounds like climate skeptic type research to me. They sure know how to pick their partners don’t they? I wonder if they used this research to back up their claims in those ads on television? It seems as if some people just don’t get the basic methodology of sound research. Responsible companies and business associations do not predetermine the findings of their research. They do their research and then make up their minds.

5. Could you please refrain from lying?

My point above on question 4 should clear this up for you. Did you solicit a study that had to fit their “facts” into your already defined position or did you do a proper study? Anyone who starts a sentence off with “In fact…” generally tells the opposite right after that statement. A responsible company and business association will not lie. It will tell the truth even if it isn’t what they wanted to hear. Furthermore, a responsible company/association will not have research targeting a predetermined outcome. Any study initiated and/or supported by a group with a vested interest should be taken with a pinch of salt. It reeks of the “favorite hamburger/coffee/pizza” stuff you see on television. Really people, stop treating us like idiots. If you fund a study or a survey and “tweak” questions to ensure the “facts” support your position… Not a sign of a responsible company or business association.

A responsible company and business association will be transparent, open and honest even when they are wrong. More importantly, a truly responsible company will not join an alliance or association who can not display these principles of responsibility. Are you hustling the truth or are you a responsible company? Your choice. I’ll decide where to put my pen and money once I get an answer.


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