It is only coincidence that shortly after posting about the importance of ethics in buttressing reputation, I came across Ethisphere Magazine's 2007 rankings of the World's Most Ethical Companies.
Among the top companies is McDonald's which, given the bad rap it often receives, comes as a surprise to more than just me I suspect. But there it is, ranked alongside Starbucks in the restaurant and cafes category; and side-by-side in other categories with Nokia, Novo-Nordisk, Ikea, Whole Foods Markets and other recognized corporate responsibility leaders.
Even the editors of the magazine feel compelled to raise the question . . . "Some may ask, 'How can McDonald’s be on the list?' The answer is that the food service industry is the largest industry in the world—and McDonald’s has clearly stood apart in introducing healthier food fare, sustainable packaging, food safety, and ethical purchasing practices."
This got me thinking about how difficult it can be to separate opinion about a company's products or services from an analysis of its behaviour. For those who simply don't like (or, in my case as a celiac with a physical intolerance to wheat products, can't eat), McDonald's hamburgers and fries or feel antipathy towards the whole concept of manufactured fast food, the idea that McDonald's could have higher aggregate scores than its competitors on a range of ethical criteria is hard to swallow. But it apparently does. (And Ethisphere's evaluation methodology is certainly sound.)
The fact is companies which mine gold or uranium, make fossil-fuel driven cars, sell cheap consumer goods, fabricate box-like suburbs, make expensive pharmaceuticals, manage hedge funds -- products needed and demanded by consumers -- can still be ethical, can still be managed responsibly, can still be socially accountable and environmentally conscientious. We may question whether they should be in business at all; but we can't use that as a measure for judging whether the business itself is run by managers who care about ethical and responsible leadership, or whether the company is a net contributor to societal welfare wherever it operates.