Tobacco Company Smokes the Competition on Corporate Citizenship

Corporate Knights (“the Canadian magazine for responsible business”) has just released its Best 50 Corporate Citizens for 2006. [Link repaired Nov. ’08]

Amazingly, tobacco giant Rothmans Inc. ranked #2 on the list (just behind Shoppers Drug Mart, Canada’s largest chain of drug stores, and just ahead of Reitman’s, a major chain of retail clothing stores). Apparently, killing a lot of people (sorry, I mean supplying an addictive product that just happens to kill a lot of people) doesn’t prevent you from being considered a good corporate citizen.

Now, as I’ve discussed here before, these sorts of rankings are a difficult thing. What sorts of things make a company ethical or a good corporate citizen? How much weight should be attributed to various factors. No easy answers here.
But you have to remember that, whatever your ranking system, it is essentially a model, a theory of corporate ethics (or citizenship or sustainability or whatever). Developing theories of ethics is a notoriously difficult problem. But one sign of a decent ethical theory is that, in addition to providing guidance on issues where we seek greater clarity, it should fit reasonably well with our most well-established moral intuitions. That’s not to say that we should build theories that simply replicate our current views and biases. But a theory that conflicts badly with our most deeply-held moral views is off to a pretty rocky start. Conflict with deeply-held moral views is a good reason to consider tweaking your theory; similarly, if our intuitions conflict with well-thought-out theories, we may have reason to consider whether our intuitions are really all that dear to us, or whether they perhaps represent biases that ought to be revised. (In John Rawls’ terms, theory and intuition should be brought into “reflective equilibrium”.)

Well, here’s a hint, folks. If your system of ranking “best corporate citizens,” “most sustainable companies” or “most ethical firms” results in a major tobacco company scoring near the top of the list, it’s time to consider revising your system.

Relevant Links:
More information on Corporate Knights’ rankings, including methodology. [Dead link deleted Nov. ’08]

Relevant Books:
Corporate Citizenship: Successful Strategies for Responsible Companies
Business And Society: A Strategic Approach To Corporate Citizenship
Business Ethics: A European Perspective : Managing Corporate Citizenship and Sustainability in the Age of Globalization
Smokescreen: The Truth Behind the Tobacco Industry Cover-Up
Assuming the Risk : The Mavericks, the Lawyers, and the Whistle-Blowers Who Beat Big Tobacco
Thanks to Joe Heath for bringing this one to my attention.

2 comments so far

  1. […] Tobacco Company Smokes the Competition on Corporate Citizenship (July 2006) […]

  2. […] See also “The Ethics of Ethics Awards”… as well as: “Tobacco Company Smokes the Competition on Corporate Citizenship” […]

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