What is Business Responsibility?
I am taping a debate with a gentleman from the Vermont Business Coalition for Channel 3’s “You Can Quote Me” Sunday morning talk show. This coalition is a Political Action Committee (PAC) that is targeting Vermont legislators that they feel are “anti-business”. Unfortunately, their definition of anti-business is any legislator that votes for increases in the minimum wage, for health care reform or for any tax bill. I will be representing Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility. While VBSR is strictly a non-partisan organization we feel that Vermont businesses are different and this coalition does not truly speak for Vermont businesses. Our organization is the largest socially responsible business organization in the country with over 650 members representing about $3.5 Billion in annual revenue and employing over 35,000 employees.
VBSR’s mission is to advance a business ethic that values multiple bottom lines: economic, social, and environmental.
We do this through:
- Education – Bringing together resources and information to help our members to meet their own goals for improving business practices and solving social, environmental and economic problems.
- Public Influence – Representing a socially responsible business ethic to the larger community, including news media and legislative bodies, to foster positive change and resist exploitation of our people, our state and our planet.
- Workplace Quality – Fostering a work environment and economic climate that enable every worker to earn a fair income safely, to contribute his or her labor to a high quality product or service, and to work and live with dignity and respect.
When you form a business you may “incorporate”. This creates a new social entity, a corporation. If you break that down to the latin base (this is where my 4-years of Latin in high school kicks in) to incorporate means to “create a body”. As a member of society a corporation has responsibilities that goes beyond simply paying taxes. A corporation has a much larger “footprint” than any single person in terms of its impact upon the economy, the environment and the community. As such it bears a greater responsibility.
As Small Dog Electronics enters this growth period and we hire new employees and expand our operations, Hapy and I have discussed the implications to our commitment to socially responsible business practices and have concluded that this is perhaps our most important time to re-commit ourselves to our social mission. We ascribe to the concept of multiple bottom lines for business. We recognize that profitability is a bottom line that is essential to business but we do not measure our success solely or most critically, based upon how much money we may accumulate. We find that the quality of our workplace, the welfare of our employees, our impact upon the environment and our community involvement are all important measures of whether Small Dog Electronics is a success.
So when this coalition opposes health care reform, I do not think that they are speaking for Vermont businesses. Most Vermont businesses DO provide health care insurance on some basis for their employees, most Vermont employers pay well above the minimum wage and most Vermont businesses give back to the community. In fact, most Vermont businesses provide “livable jobs” that ensure that their employees can provide for their basic needs without the need for governmental assistance.
The Vermont Business Coalition is simply parroting that tired old line that all taxes are bad, that regulations are evil and that the only purpose of business is profits. I certainly defend their right to participate in our democratic process and support candidates they feel are in-line with their beliefs, but perhaps they were not able to find any of those candidates because they have defaulted to attacking candidates that have voted for legislation that advances strong environmental and social legislation. My message will be clear, that this group does not speak for Vermont businesses but is rather a reactionary voice with a negative message. Businesses have a huge potential to do good in this world. While I often will take jabs at Microsoft, I have a world of respect for Bill Gates and the foundation that he and his wife have formed to give back in a big way to society.
I think that the more you think about a business as a “body” in our community, the easier it is to understand a business’s social responsibility. It is a responsibility we take very seriously at Small Dog Electronics.
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