Archive for the ‘NGO’ Category

Why Do (or Don’t) Companies Go Green?

Why do some companies “go green,” while others are satisfied to go grey? Why do some develop robust sustainability programs while others sit back and watch?

Yesterday, as part of my Business Ethics Speakers Series at the Ted Rogers School of Management, I had the pleasure of hosting Hamish van Der Ven, a Ph.D. candidate from the University of Toronto. The title of Hamish’s talk was “Big-Box Retail and the Environment: Why Some Firms Innovate and Others Stagnate.” His main contention was that the main factor at play is the socialization of high-level executives at multi-stakeholder sustainability networks. In other words, what matters is whether the leaders of the company in question make use of opportunities to sit down with a range of folks to talk about sustainability.

The main competing theory of why companies go green is the theory that it all has to do with profitability. Companies go green, on this theory, because they buy into the “business case” for sustainability. That is, they come to believe that reducing energy usage, minimizing packaging and waste, and so on, will be good for the bottom line. Alternatively, they come to believe that being perceived as environmentally-progressive will win them customers, and increase profits that way.

But as Hamish rightly points out, that explanation suffers from a serious defect. Every company is subject to those pressures — they all want to cut costs and reduce waste and attract environmentally-concerned consumers— but only some of them actually put much effort into sustainability programs that will do those things. If the business case is such an important motivator, why don’t all companies buy into it?

Much more significant, Hamish argues, are the opportunities executives take, or don’t take, to open themselves up to internalizing new social norms. The process of socialization involves precisely the process of internalizing social norms. And that happens through social interaction.

And when leaders change their thinking, they tend to do a lot to change corporate culture. As the head of CSR for one major corporation told me, “We talked a lot about going green, but then one day the CEO called and said ‘Make it happen,’ so it happened.”

Of course, this isn’t just just a story about how policy-makers and activists can influence companies by influencing leaders. It’s also a story about how leaders can implement change in their own organizations. As Hamish put it, “If you sit down with people who think differently, you start to see things in a new light. We cannot expect change to result from [instead] sitting around a table with people who think just like you.”

Update, Dec. 14, 2013: Hamish has now published a paper based on this research. “Socializing the C-suite: why some big-box retailers are “greener” than others,” Business and Politics Ahead of print (Dec 2013)

Hiring the Donor’s Daughter

Nonprofit and charitable organizations face many of the same ethical challenges that other organizations face, but they may also bump into a few special problems from time to time.

As an example, consider the following HR dilemma, which was posed to me recently.

I work for a nonprofit organization in health research, and I’ve recently been told that I will be hiring and supervising a new individual whose parents are donating her salary for one year (it’s to be a one-year, limited-term position) in addition to making a sizeable donation. The hope is that, in time, the donors will make a significantly larger gift of a million dollars or more. The arrangement presents numerous challenges to me as a manager, since everyone in the upper levels of the organization agrees that the true nature of the arrangement can’t be revealed, but many employees will realize that the situation is unusual and will have serious questions about it.

I’ve presented my concerns to those involved, but the decision-makers are rationalizing their actions (they tell me it’s “for the good of the organization”), and asking me to embrace this “opportunity.”

Clearly, the mid-level manager here is in a tough position, caught between a rock and a hard place. The manager is being told, by those higher up, that this is the way things are. But the manager also has a team to manage, and the unorthodox hiring of this new “employee” may cause trouble.

Here are what I think are the relevant considerations:

1) I don’t think the basic arrangement itself is obviously unethical. The “employee,” here, is essentially a volunteer, being bankrolled by her father. A bit lame, for her, but if she provides the organization with some value, that in itself could be a good thing, in addition to the donation that her father is making and may later make.

2) Point #1 above assumes that this person will actually do some work, rather than just be padding her CV by means of this one-year position with a reputable nonprofit organization. If she’s just going to take up space, then her presence is inevitably going to be resented and hence disruptive.

3) Then there’s the question of whether this “hire” is affecting anyone else’s job. From what I understand, no one is being fired to make room for this new person. But even if no one’s job is immediately in jeopardy, it may have implications for who gets hired over the next year, who gets overtime, whose job is expanded in interesting ways, and so on. So other employees do have reason to be concerned.

4) The fact that senior management sees a need to hide what’s really going on, here, seems to be where the ethical problem lies. That part seems highly problematic. If this is a good “hire”, why not be transparent about it?

5) At a certain level, this is as much a “wise management” question as it is an ethics question. If (as seems to be the case) the current plan is bad for morale, then wise senior managers should realize that, and think this through more carefully.

All in all, I would suggest that the situation, as it is being handled by senior managers, represens a significant lapse in leadership. Their motives in accepting the deal — hiring this woman in return for a big donation — are reasonable enough. The mere fact that her hire wouldn’t go through the usual processes isn’t itself damning, provided that the net value to the organization is positive, and as long as no one’s rights are violated. Perhaps the ends here do justify the means — after all, we’re talking about the potential for a very large donation. But the fact that senior managers feel the need to keep the deal secret is a major red flag. Wise organizational leaders should work hard to make sure that, when compromises are being made, they are at very least compromises that they are able to defend, and about which they are willing to be transparent.

Bullying in Pursuit of the Public Good

Should we celebrate when a powerful NGO convinces a powerful corporation to change its mind on something?

Here’s an example. Greenpeace recently… um, persuaded Mattel to stop using packaging sourced from companies that contribute to deforestation in Indonesia. (See the story by Angelina Chapin: Greenpeace wins battle with Mattel.) Mattel is a major toymaker, selling millions of products wrapped in cardboard, so the company’s decisions on where to get that cardboard stand to have a significant environmental impact. And Greenpeace managed to get the company to change its ways.

I suspect — but only suspect — that this is a good thing. I don’t know much about the facts of this particular case, but I think generally it’s good that there are well-intentioned nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) like Greenpeace working hard to get companies to think twice about the environmental impact of their business practices.

But it’s not always a good thing when NGOs badger and cajole a big company. Consider, for example, another case involving Greenpeace, namely the battle over the dismantling and disposal of the massive Brent Spar oil-storage buoy in the mid-90s. In that case, Greepeace launched a global campaign to pressure Shell, owner of the Brent Spar, to dispose of the floating oil-storage facility in a way that contradicted the company’s own environmental impact assessment. Greenpeace later changed its mind and apologized, but it was too late: Shell’s original disposal plan had already been scrapped, and the company’s share price damaged. In other words, Greenpeace had bullied Shell into doing the wrong thing.

Now most people are generally not very worried about major corporations, or large institutions of any kind, being bullied. And it’s easy enough to understand why. We’re usually more worried about corporations having too much power, rather than too little. But to uniformly celebrate victories of NGOs over corporations is to assume that NGOs are always right. And that’s a mistake. It’s also a mistake to assume that NGOs are in any important sense democratic, or automatically representative of the public interest.

Now this point must not be mistaken for a general critique of NGOs. There are many good NGOs out there, doing invaluable work. It’s just a reminder that the leaders of NGOs are not elected representatives, but rather self-appointed defenders of what they see as the public good. (I’ve written about how to assess NGO legitimacy before.)

Think of it this way. Companies sometimes do dumb things, and sometimes they do unethical things. There are lots of ways that can happen. Sometimes it’s due to flawed internal decision-making processes. Sometimes it’s a blind focus on profits or on expanding market share. Sometimes they do bad things in response to poorly-constructed regulations, or pressure from governments. And sometimes they’re bullied by other organizations, including NGOs.

And when a major corporation is bullied into making a bad decision, that bad decision can have enormous implications. So we should all watch with a careful eye when lobby groups, whether corporate or populist, attempt to use powerful non-democratic means to get their way.

PETA Promises Porn With a Purpose

Is it just me, or has PETA jumped the shark? The always-provocative animal-rights organization is at it again, this time announcing that it’s planning on starting its own porn site to draw attention to the plight of animals. And once again it’s alienating groups that it ought to consider allies.

See this version of the story, by Madeleine White, for the Globe and Mail: PETA to launch porn website: Is this still about animal rights?

The animal rights group, known for its naturalist ways, has registered the domain name and plans to launch a pornography website in December that “draws attention to the plight of animals….”

Not surprisingly, many feminists (in the broadest sense of the term) have objected. The general line of argument is that you’re not really accomplishing anything if you’re raising awareness for one cause (say, animal suffering) by doing damage to another cause (say, sexual equality). When PETA uses naked bodies, they are almost always female bodies, portrayed and instrumentalized as sex objects. Porn, in other words, is pretty problematic as a consciousness-raising tool.

Now none of this assumes that all porn is automatically a bad thing. It is, by definition, naughty, and certainly controversial, but there’s little reasoned objection against portrayals of nudity or sexuality per se. Any sane objection has to be rooted in things like objectification, which is not a necessary ingredient of porn, though it is certainly a common one. Of course, no one knows yet just what kind of porn PETA has in mind, but the group’s history suggests that we shouldn’t expect anything terribly progressive.

Why does the group use such tactics in the first place? PETA claims that they have no choice:

Unlike our opposition, which is mostly composed of wealthy industries and corporations, PETA must rely on getting free “advertising” through media coverage.

But that’s not exactly true. According to PETA’s financial report, the organization has about a $36 million budget, overall, out of which it spends about $11 million on “Public Outreach and Education.”

It perhaps goes without saying that any for-profit corporation that tried to set up such a website to draw attention to its product would draw fire, too. But of course it is utterly unthinkable that Coca-Cola or Microsoft would set up an entire porn site just to draw attention to their products. That’s not to say that lots of companies don’t use sex in their advertising, but no mainstream company would ever go so far as to use actual porn to reach an audience. But then, PETA isn’t a for-profit corporation, but rather a not-for-profit corporation, one that exists to promote animal rights. But is objectification of female bodies for a cause different than objectification of female bodies for money, ethically speaking? PETA will surely say “yes.” After all, this is porn for a good cause, not just for its own sake, and not just to generate filthy profits. But it’s worth remembering that PETA’s values, and the goals it seeks, are far from universal. We’re not talking about, say, world hunger or literacy. And there are all kinds of for-profit companies that produce products that make the world a better place in tangible, agreed-upon ways.

Maybe the problem with PETA isn’t (just) that their campaigns objectify women, but that they are cavalier about doing so. They’re single-minded in pursuit of their objectives, and sex is just one more tool for them to use in pursuing it. An organization that’s supposedly committed to getting us to think about the plight of animals can’t afford to be seen as clueless about other ethical issues.

Greenpeace, Tar Sands and “Fighting Fire With Fire”

Do higher standards apply to advertising by industry than apply to advertising by nonprofits? Is it fair to fight fire with fire? Do two wrongs make a right?

See this item, by Kevin Libin, writing for National Post: Yogourt fuels oil-sands war.

Here’s what is apparently intolerable to certain environmental groups opposed to Alberta’s oil sands industry: an advertisement that compares the consistency of tailings ponds to yogourt.

Here’s what is evidently acceptable to certain environmental groups opposed to Alberta’s oil sands industry: an advertisement warning that a young biologist working for Devon Energy named Megan Blampin will “probably die from cancer” from her work, and that her family will be paid hush money to keep silent about it….

It’s worth reading the rest of the story to get the details. Basically, the question is about the standards that apply to advertising by nonprofit or activist groups like the Sierra Club and Greenpeace. But it’s also more specifically about whether it’s OK for such groups to get personal by including in their ads individual employees of the companies they are targeting.

A few quick points:

  • Many people think companies deserve few or no protections against attacks. Some people, for example, think companies should not even be able to sue for slander or libel. Likewise, corporations (and other organizations) do not enjoy the same regulatory protections and ethical standards that protect individual humans when they are the subjects of university-based research. Corporations may have, of necessity, certain legal rights, but not the same list (and not as extensive a list) as the list of rights enjoyed by human persons. So people are bound to react differently when activist groups attack (or at least name) individual human persons, as opposed to “merely” attacking corporations.
  • Complicating matters is the fact that the original ads (by Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, or CAPP) themselves featured those same individual employees. So the employees had presumably already volunteered to be put in the spotlight. But of course, they volunteered to be put in the spotlight in a particular way.
  • For many people, the goals of the organizations in question will matter. So the fact that Greenpeace and the Sierra Club are trying literally to save the world (rather than aiming at something more base, like filthy lucre) might be taken as earning them a little slack. In other words, some will say that the ends justify the means. On the other hand, the particular near-term goals of those organizations are not shared by everyone. And not everyone thinks that alternative goals (like making a profit, or like keeping Canadians from freezing to death in winter) are all that bad.
  • Others might say that, being organizations explicitly committed to doing good, Greenpeace and the Sierra Club ought to be entirely squeaky-clean. If they can’t be expected to keep their noses clean, who can? On the other hand, some might find that just a bit precious. Getting the job done is what matters, and it’s not clear that an organization with noble goals wins many extra points for conducting itself in a saintly manner along the way.

(I’ve blogged about the tar sands and accusations of greenwashing, here: Greenwashing the Tar Sands.)

Thanks to LW for sending me this story.

Corporate Citizenship, Apple, and WikiLeaks

What kinds of political obligations do corporations have? In particular, do they have obligations, like governments do, not to interfere with things like people’s ability to express themselves?

See this short blog entry by Leander Kahney, at Cult of Mac: Apple Pulled Wikileaks App Because It “Violated Dev Guidelines”

Apple has joined the shameful list of companies that have denied support for Wikileaks.

Apple confirmed that it removed a Wikileaks App from the online App Store, as reported earlier, and did so because it “violated our developer guidelines.”

“Apps must comply with all local laws and may not put an individual or group in harm’s way,” Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller told the New York Times.

However, exactly how or why the app doesn’t comply with the law — or puts individuals or groups in harm’s way, Muler didn’t explain. She also didn’t discuss the First Amendment or the freedom of the press….

(I’ve already blogged on the more general question of whether companies are justified in ceasing to do business with WikiLeaks. See: Should Companies Judge the Ethics of Those With Whom they Do Business?)

But what’s particularly interesting in the bit quoted above is that Kahney mentions the First Amendment, implying that Apple ought to support WikiLeaks because it has a First-Amendment obligation to do so.

On the face of it, from a legal point of view, that’s surely false. The First Amendment says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances

Now, on the face of it, that’s a restriction on what the US Congress may do; it implies nothing at all about what private organizations (including corporations like Apple) may or may not do. (If there are experts on US Constitutional Law out there, please feel free to correct me!) But it may well be that the precepts enunciated in the US Constitution and Bill of Rights (or in other nations’ constitutional documents) should be thought of as having not just legal force, but also moral force, and that that moral force should be thought of as extending to all kinds of institutions, not just government. If that’s the case, then you could argue that, even though corporations are not legally bound by such principles, they ought ethically to be guided by them.

The whole issue of whether corporations have specifically political obligations to citizens (and not just more general ethical obligations to consumers) is a difficult one. Are we gaining something, or losing something, by thinking of corporations that way? Does thinking about corporations as playing a quasi-governmental role illuminate their moral obligations, or obscure them? In this regard, if you’re academically inclined it’s worth taking a look at this masterful article by my friend Pierre-Yves Néron: “Business and the Polis: What Does it Mean to See Corporations as Political Actors?”

WikiLeaks and NGO Legitimacy

The ethical standards that apply to an organization depend in part on what kind of organization it is. Some standards are either universal or nearly so: lying, cheating, stealing are generally bad whoever you are. But lots of other rules, principles, and values will vary, at least in terms of the weight attached to them. It matters for lots of purposes whether you are a corporation, a government agency, a non-governmental organization (NGO), a social club, a church, or a newspaper.

What kind of organization is WikiLeaks? It is sometimes referred to as a news agency, though that designation is disputed. Let’s look at WikiLeaks as a straightforward cause-oriented NGO, for the sake of argument.

One key question we ought to ask with regard to any NGO has to do with its legitimacy. In other words, for any NGO, we need to ask, “does this group have the right to speak and act on behalf of the cause it claims to speak and act for?” In other words, anyone may claim (for example) to “represent the forces of Good” or to “stand for justice” or to “speak for the whales.” And anyone is free to say what they want in defence of goodness or justice or whales. But saying you speak for goodness or justice or whales doesn’t mean that you actually do, and it doesn’t mean that anyone should listen to you or consult you on important decisions. Being a legitimate spokesperson takes something else. But what?

One framework that I’ve found useful is the one provided by Iain Atack in his paper “Four Criteria of Development NGO Legitimacy.”1. Atack’s framework is intended to apply to development NGOs, but I think that the basic idea can be applied more broadly.

Atack suggests that an NGO may gain legitimacy from one or more of 4 sources:

  • Representativeness (Does the organization, for example, have a large membership base for which it genuinely speaks?)
  • Effectiveness (Does the organization have a proven track record of getting the job done?)
  • Empowerment (Does the organization work not just to achieve its goals, but to make sure that those it helps are, in the long run, left better-able to achieve those goals themselves?)
  • Values (Does the organization embody and promote the values that are essential to the sort of organization it is, whatever those may be?)

Each of these is a way in which an NGO might acquire legitimacy. Some NGOs might score well on several of those. Some on just one. Some on none — and those that score well on none of those criteria are, according to Atack’s framework, lacking in legitimacy. Stated negatively, we could put the point this way: if an organization doesn’t have a membership base, isn’t effective, doesn’t work to empower those it seeks to help, and doesn’t embody the relevant values, then just what makes it think it has the right to speak or act for anyone other than itself?

Of course, these are not all-or-nothing questions. An organization can be representative, effective, etc., to a greater or lesser degree, and hence be either more or less legitimate.

This framework isn’t the be-all and end-all of assessing NGO legitimacy, but it’s a starting point. So, consider an NGO like WikiLeaks. Where does its legitimacy come from? In other words, what is the source of whatever moral authority is has? Is it from one of the sources Atack suggests, or is it something else?

1Ian Atack, “Four Criteria of Development NGO Legitimacy,” World Development, 27:5 (1999) 855-864.

Should Companies Judge the Ethics of Those With Whom they Do Business?

Wikileaks under examinationThe Wikleaks backlash continues. I suggested here two days ago that Mastercard was probably justified in ceasing to act as a conduit for donations to Wikileaks. I said that, at very least, it’s not surprising that a company whose business depends on its reputation as a trustworthy keeper of secrets would find it hard to endorse the behaviour of an organization that exists entirely for the purpose of exposing secrets.

But quite a few people have suggested that Mastercard (and Visa and PayPal and perhaps others) have been inconsistent, and perhaps even hypocritical, in deciding to cut off Wikileaks. As an editorialist for the Guardian pointed out

while MasterCard and Visa have cut WikiLeaks off you can still use those cards to donate to overtly racist organisations such as the Knights Party, which is supported by the Ku Klux Klan.

For that matter, you can use Mastercard or Visa to donate to any number of controversial charities and political causes, from PETA to the NRA to Planned Parenthood — all of which are organizations about which at least some people have serious moral reservations. Similarly, you can use either card to buy cigarettes, to buy guns, to buy drug paraphernalia, to reserve the services of a call girl, or to pay for hardcore pornography online. So, really, just how careful are Visa and Mastercard with regard to the companies they deal with?

And if Visa & Mastercard are on thin ice with regard to judging Wikileaks morally, that reduces the force of their ostensible reason for cutting off the organization, and lends credibility to the claim that all they’re doing is caving to government pressure.

Trying to divine the actual motives of the credit card companies here is probably nearly impossible. But this also raises the very general question of whether companies should pass moral judgment on their customers and business associates. Is it OK for a company to refuse to do business with someone — whether that someone is an individual or another company — because they have ethical objections to their behaviour?

(I touched on this topic a couple of years ago, in discussing the right of a bakery not to decorate a cake with the name “Adolf Hitler” on it. And more recently I blogged about corporate participation in the death penalty.)

Now in some cases, of course, moralistic discrimination is simply impossible, because the grounds upon which a company might choose to discriminate are invisible to them. In many markets, companies simply don’t know enough about their customers to pass judgment. The store I buy my groceries from has no idea how I live my life, what my values are, etc. Maybe if they knew more about me they would refuse to sell to me. But they don’t, so they can’t, and they aren’t likely to start going to the trouble of finding out more.

And in many (most?) cases, discrimination on moral grounds is off the agenda simply because it reduces profits. Maybe you have moral qualms with the behaviour or character of 25% of the population (or maybe even with the 50% who don’t vote the way you do), but are you really going to refuse to do business with them, and accept the resulting huge reduction in income?

And clearly, generally, this paucity of moralistic discrimination is a good thing. A lack of discrimination likely leads to greater economic efficiency (good for the community as a whole). And the fact that businesses are generally (though unfortunately not always) unable to discriminate based on, e.g., what they see as moral objections to someone’s sexual orientation, is a good thing for gays, lesbians, the transgendered, etc.

On the other hand, there are some clear cases in which it is widely accepted that companies will and should discriminate based on the character and behaviour of their customers. Think of banks, which are obligated (often legally required) to “discriminate” against criminal organizations by, for example, reporting large financial transactions to the government.

Note also that many people believe that companies should judge other companies they do business with, for example with regard to their environmental record and labour standards. In fact, lots of companies have faced serious criticism for failing to do so. Companies today are supposed to care about the ethical standards of their suppliers.

So, is it OK (or even good) for companies like Visa and Mastercard and PayPal to judge the morality of Wikileaks? Your initial answer to that is likely to depend on your opinion of Wikileaks more generally. I’d be curious to know if there’s anyone out there who says either:

  1. “Wikileaks is evil, but Mastercard, Visa, and PayPal should stay neutral and continue funneling funds to them,” or
  2. “Wikileaks is great, but Mastercard, Visa, and PayPal are fully justified in cutting them off.”

Wikileaks, Credit-Card Companies, and Complicity

I was interviewed last night on CBC TV’s “The Lang & O’Leary Exchange” about Mastercard and Visa’s decision to stop acting as a conduit for donations to the controversial secret-busting website Wikileaks. [Here’s the show. I’m at about 15:45.] (For those of you who don’t already know the story, here’s The Guardian‘s version, which focuses on retaliation against Mastercard by some of Wikileaks’ fans: Operation Payback cripples MasterCard site in revenge for WikiLeaks ban. )

Basically, the show’s hosts wanted to talk about whether a company like Mastercard or Visa is justified in cutting off Wikileaks, and essentially taking a stand on an ethical issue like this.

Here’s my take on the issue, parts of which I tried to express on L&O. Now just to be clear, what follows is not intended to convince you whether you should be pro- or anti-Wikileaks. The question is specifically whether Mastercard and Visa, knowing what they know and valuing what they value, should support Wikileaks’s activities.

I think that, yes, Mastercard & Visa are justified in cutting off Wikileaks. And I don’t think that conclusion depends on arriving at a final conclusion about the ethics of Wikileaks itself. The jury is still out on whether the net effect of Wikileaks’ leaks will be positive or negative. Likewise it is still unclear whether Wikileaks’ activities are legal or not. And who knows? History may be kind to Wikileaks and its front-man, Julian Assange. The question is whether, knowing what we know now, it is reasonable for Mastercard & Visa to choose to dissociate themselves. I think the answer is clearly “yes.” The key here is entitlement: the secrets that Wikileaks is disclosing are not theirs to disclose. They don’t have any clear legal or moral authority to do so, and so Mastercard & Visa are very well-justified in declaring themselves unwilling to aid in the endeavour.

One question that came up in last night’s interview had to do with complicity. Is a company like Mastercard or Visa complicit in the activities of Wikileaks? The answer to that question is essential to answering the question of whether the credit card companies might have been justified in simply claiming to be neutral, neither endorsing nor condemning Wikileaks but merely acting as a financial conduit. I think the answer to that question depends on at least 3 factors.

  • 1. To what extent does Mastercard or Visa actually endorse Wikileaks’ activities?
  • 2. To what extent does Mastercard or Visa know about those activities? and
  • 3. To what extent does Mastercard or Visa actually make Wikileaks’ activities possible? That is, what is the extent of their causal contribution? Do they play an essential role, or are they a bit player?

In terms of question #1, it’s worth noting the significance of the particular values at stake, here. Wikileaks stands for transparency and for publicizing confidential information. Visa and Mastercard stand for pretty much the exact opposite. Visa and Mastercard, like other financial institutions, are able to do business because so many people trust them with their financial and other personal information. And so the credit card companies are, of all the companies you can think of, pretty clearly among the least likely to be able to endorse Wikileaks’ tactics, whatever they think of the organization’s objectives.

It’s also worth noting the significance of the notion of “corporate citizenship,” here. That term is widely abused — sometimes it’s used to refer to any and all social responsibilities, broadly understood. But if we take the “citizenship” part of “corporate citizenship” seriously, then companies need to think seriously about what obligations they have as corporate citizens, which has to have something to do with their obligations vis-a-vis government. Regardless of how this mess all turns out, the charges currently being bandied about include things like “treason” and “espionage” and “threat to national security.” These are things that no good corporate citizen can take lightly.

PETA Goes Corporate

PETA — the organization best known for its attempts to annoy the world into conforming with its world-view — has found a new tactic:
PETA buys stock to gain influence in boardrooms

An animal-rights group known for sending out scantily clad demonstrators to protest fur and other provocative stunts has gained influence in boardrooms with a more traditional tactic: buying company stock.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has been buying shares for seven years and now owns a piece of at least 80 companies, including McDonald’s and Kraft Foods.

Is this an obvious move, or a stunning one?

It’s somewhat amusing, of course, (and to some, I’m sure, horrifying) to know that, as shareholders, PETA will now start to benefit from the sale of the very meat products it so fervently opposes. But presumably this is an instance in which PETA believes that the ends justify the means. Another way to say the same thing is to say that PETA (to its credit?) is willing to get its hands dirty, in this case by profiting (in the short run) from a business it is trying to destroy. If (as seems likely to be the case) this strategy does succeed in giving the organization a significant voice in the corporate world, then it seems like a good move. I suspect the money they’ll spend on shares will have more impact than the same amount of money spent on publicity stunts. Presumably the only activists who will mind are ones who care less about animals and relatively more about opposing the standard pattern according to which those with money — in this case, PETA — are best able to make themselves heard.

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