Companies Can Have a Conscience

Most corporations measure their worth by their bottom line—profits. For some companies, like Working Assets Long Distance and Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, profits, however, don’t begin to measure their value
to the public and communities.

Working Assets, for example, donates one percent of its long-distance phone revenue to progressive non-profit organizations working for peace, human rights, equality, education, and the environment.

As the company tells its customers, every long-distance call helps to build affordable housing, clean up toxic waste dumps, protect a woman’s right to choose, provide emergency relief to people devastated by AIDS in Africa and expose corporate polluters around the world.

Among the organizations supported by Working Assets are Children Now, Doctors Without Borders, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Handgun Control, Inc., Human Rights Watch, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

In addition, Working Assets (800-634-4150) each month sends out an alert on two urgent issues, and gives its customers an opportunity to make free calls to express their opinions to Members of Congress and other government and business leaders. As an alternative to a telephone call, the company offers to write and send a low-cost “citizens letter” on behalf of its customers.

Ben and Jerry’s Foundation was established in 1985 through a donation of the ice cream company’s stock. In addition, the company makes donations of approximately 7.5 percent of its pre-tax profits, part of it going into the foundation and other portions into employee-led Community Action Teams which make small grants to community groups in Vermont, the company’s home-state.

Ben and Jerry’s Foundation offers grants to non-profit grass roots organizations across the nation which facilitate progressive social change by addressing the underlying conditions of societal and environmental problems. The decisions on which organizations’ requests are funded is made by a team of Ben and Jerry’s employees.

Working Assets and Ben and Jerry’s obviously are not the only companies that back up a social consciousness with money and other resources. The England-based Body Shop, for example, is similarly active. But, where do you find these community-minded companies among the mass of “business as usual” corporations which not only lack a social conscience, but are contributors to the exploitation of workers and consumers and polluters of our air and water?

One answer is provided by Co-op America, a non-profit organization, which collects and publishes data that allows its members to buy socially responsible products, invest in healthy community development and boycott corporate criminals who pollute the environment and exploit workers around the world.

Co-op America publishes the “National Green Pages, ” a comprehensive guide to products that are ecologically sound and produced in a socially responsible manner. The Green Pages also contain information about investing in companies that respect the environment, protect their workers and produce healthy products. Co-op America provides its members with assistance in divesting from companies that produce pesticides, tobacco , toxic waste and other carcinogens.

As Alisa Gravitz, Executive Director of Co-op America, says: “We can blame irresponsible companies, unresponsive politicians or the ‘system’ for our problems. Or we can join together to do something about it. Nobody else is going to do it for us.”

Consumers, equipped with the information provided by Co-op America (www.coopamerica.org) and other citizen organizations, do have the power to change the way corporations do business. There will be more companies like Working Assets and more Ben and Jerry’s with a social conscience if enough consumers demand them.

Consumers can speak loudly in the marketplace and at the ballot box. They have the power to make corporations and politicians deliver

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