Be­ing ‘just’ to work­ers a pri­or­ity

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - VOICES & VIEWS - By Jena McGre­gor WASH­ING­TON POST

Amer­i­cans pri­or­i­tize one thing above all oth­ers when eval­u­at­ing whether a com­pany is a good cor­po­rate cit­i­zen: how they treat their work­ers.

That’s ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey re­leased this past week of 10,000 Amer­i­cans by Just Cap­i­tal, a non­profit co-founded by hedge fund bil­lion­aire Paul Tu­dor Jones II that also as­sesses and ranks com­pa­nies for how “just” they are in their busi­ness prac­tices.

More Amer­i­cans ranked work­ers above all other is­sues or stake­hold­ers — things like cus­tomers, prod­ucts, the en­vi­ron­ment or com­mu­ni­ties — when it comes to de­ter­min­ing a busi­ness’s be­hav­ior.

Con­ducted in part­ner­ship with the Univer­sity of Chicago’s re­search in­sti­tu­tion, NORC, the sur­vey found that 85 per­cent of Democrats and 72 per­cent of Repub­li­cans be­lieve com­pa­nies don’t share enough of their suc­cess with work­ers.

With un­em­ploy­ment at a 17-year low, and at a time when “we haven’t seen cor­po­rate prof­its this high and with equity mar­kets at a record high, there’s still a sub­stan­tial group of work­ing Amer­i­cans who just are not ben­e­fit­ing from that,” said Martin Whit­taker, CEO of Just Cap­i­tal. “It doesn’t sur­prise me that work­ers, and how a com­pany treats its work­ers, is front and cen­ter.”

The sur­vey also could re­veal a missed op­por­tu­nity for com­pa­nies that try to pro­mote their so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity in a bid to woo con­sumers or em­ploy­ees who in­creas­ingly want to spend money with or work for com­pa­nies that share their val­ues. Ac­cord­ing to the sur­vey, 85 per­cent of Amer­i­cans said they would pay more for a prod­uct with “just” busi­ness prac­tices, while 79 per­cent said they would take a pay cut to work at such a com­pany.

While many com­pa­nies tout their en­vi­ron­men­tal prac­tices, their vol­un­teer ef­forts in lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties or their cus­tomer ser­vice, the sur­vey of­fers a re­minder that they should con­sider do­ing more to con­vinc­ingly pro­mote higher wages or nondis­crim­i­na­tory hir­ing prac­tices as a way to set them­selves apart.

Too many com­pa­nies, says Wil­liam La­zon­ick, an eco­nomics pro­fes­sor at Univer­sity of Mas­sachusetts at Low­ell, are “talk­ing about a lot of is­sues that don’t cost them a lot to deal with and give them a good face. But the fun­da­men­tals of how you treat your work­ers are be­ing ne­glected.”

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