Corporations with Conscience

A household name kicked an old habit for moral reasons last month: CVS Pharmacy announced it would stop selling tobacco. Other companies taking moral positions that infuse their business include Whole Foods Market and Chipotle Mexican Grill, which sell food grown or raised to high standards of environmental and animal welfare. Wal-Mart, Walgreens, and Disney cut the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables and eliminated junk-food ads to curb childhood obesity. Dunkin’ Donuts recycles its foam cups and funds research for a non-foam cup alternative to reduce its carbon footprint. TOMS Shoes donates a pair of new shoes to a needy child for every pair it sells. Newman’s Own gives all its profits to charity. These decisions reflect a growing American trend of corporate social responsibility, where profit-making businesses make some decisions apart from — and often contrary to — their bottom-line financial interests, based on moral or philosophical values.

(Hanna Smith, Deseret News) In related news, President Obama last Tuesday made a photo-op stop at a Gap store in Manhattan:

He then went on to congratulate the Gap for instituting a policy of paying entry level employees a higher minimum wage. Obama has ordered that federal contractors increase the minimum wage and has asked Congress to approve an increase from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour for all employers.

Yup. The Gap is going to pay $9 per hour this year, $10 next year. Some business pay an even higher minimum wage, like $14 per hour, as a matter of conscience. Woohoo! Isn’t it great when business has a conscience!?

Well, that depends. Does your conscience have the Big Brother Seal of Approval?

The White House heaped praise on CVS’s decision as a “powerful example” for corporate America. But when an arts-and-crafts chain, Hobby Lobby, and a Christian bookstore chain, Mardel, decided to exclude from their employee health insurance plans drugs and devices that can end human life after conception because of religious values, the White House responded very differently. It has fought them all the way to the United States Supreme Court.

(Hanna Smith)

Yes, I know. The analogy doesn’t hold, because Hobby Lobby is an evil Christianist oppressor of its employees, fighting the government tooth and nail, denying employees insurance coverage for “basic health care,” and no doubt requiring government coercion to drag them into the 21st Century on everything else, too.

It’s such an imposition that a $14 dollar per hour Hobby Lobby employee (Yup. That’s Hobby Lobby’s voluntary minimum wage!) might have to spend $15  per month for her own contraceptive pills when the lucky $9 per hour Gap employee, with a government-vetted conscience, gets them for free.

If your corporate conscience is pliable enough, you get Presidential praise, while a corporation that pays its employees far better as a matter of Christian conscience isn’t allowed to draw a line without government approval. Can anyone explain to me how a corporation may express a “secular” conscience but not a “religious” conscience?

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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.