The Walmart (WMT) bribery scandal has shined a harsh spotlight on corporate misdeeds.
A media firestorm erupted following allegations this week that the world's biggest retailer's Mexican division bribed government officials to secure building permits in the country, as reported in The New York Times.
But do shoppers really care about the integrity and moral compass of the stores they shop? Apparently, they do -- and increasingly so, says Carol Cone, managing director of brand and corporate citizenship for Edelman, the public relations firm. "In a world of radical transparency and 24/7 instant communications, what a company stands for and how it behaves is more important than ever," Cone told DailyFinance.
Edelman's goodpurpose study -- which explored consumers' attitudes about their expectations of brands and companies' commitment to social issues -- revealed, for one, that 87% of American consumers surveyed think businesses need to place at least as much weight on society's interests as they do on business interests.
And as the Internet has opened up seemingly limitless shopping options, consumers turned off by a firm's corporate behavior can now "easily protest by shifting their spending dollars elsewhere," says Brian Schaffer, vice president of mergers and acquisitions and crisis communications for CJP Communications, a public relations and investor relations firm.
While one can never really know the possible shenanigans brewing behind the scenes at any given company, there are ways to probe the policies and track record of your favorite stores and brands to shed light on questions like: What are a company's business ethics? Is there a history of corporate improprieties? What's their track record on issues like labor and human rights or the environment? Does the company do right by their employees, the communities they serve and consumers? And are their political leanings in line with mine?
If you subscribe to the theory that we all vote with our dollars, everyday consumers can consult these eight sources (cited by Cone and others) to vet the brands they buy and the stores they shop.
Consumer Confidence - Sites To Help You Vet The Stores You Shop
Walmart Bribery Scandal: How Ethical Are the Stores You Shop?
Responsible Shopper is designed to alert consumers and investors to problems within companies and to "encourage individuals to use their economic clout to demand greater corporate responsibility," according to the website.
Culling from a range of sources including news stories and reports from watchdog organizations, the site takes an investigative approach to track everything from abuses by well-known firms to their track record on labor practices, corporate governance and the environment. Consumers can search through hundreds of company profiles to vet a firm on a number of issues. A recent visit to Responsible Shopper turned up links to a list of companies that use child labor, as well as a link to "most viewed profiles," which this week were Walmart, Coca-Cola (KO) and the Gap (GPS).
Better World Shopper aims to deliver an exhaustive account of the social and environmental record of "every company on the planet."
The site monitors companies' records on social justice issues -- from their policies on fair wages to their health and safety records -- as well as other misdeeds, including discrimination, human-rights violations (like sweatshop factory conditions and third-world community exploitation), and environmental no-no's such as "greenwashing."
Shoppers can also find lists of the best and worst companies according to Better World Shopper's criteria, and check on the grade -- from A to F -- that a company earned for its record on a given issue.
Corporate Accountability International bills itself as a pioneer in the movement, having been "waging and winning campaigns to challenge corporate abuse for more than 30 years," according to its web site. CAI appeals to consumers with activist impulses by spotlighting offending companies and provides "action you can take -- petitions, letter-writing campaigns, etc.," Cone says.
One recent visit to the site, which has a newsy feel, turned up a link to "corporate hall of shame winners," as well as updates on a number of CAI campaigns, such as efforts to push fast-food giants to curb what the organization deems the industry's contribution to diet-related diseases.
This international think tank is devoted to the "creation, advancement and sharing of best practices in business ethics, corporate social responsibility, anti-corruption and sustainability," its site says.
Denise Bowyer, vice president of American Income Life Insurance Company, cited Ethisphere as one of the sites she consults while shaping her company's advocacy agenda on behalf of working families. "Ethisphere conducted data analysis on hundreds of companies based on their research and a survey that measured against seven distinct categories," Bowyer says.
These include corporate citizenship and responsibility; corporate governance; innovation that contributes to the public well-being; industry leadership; executive leadership and tone from the top; legal, regulatory and reputation track record; and internal systems and ethics/compliance program.
This U.K. site is a source for information on offending companies and their misconduct, Cone says. A visit to Ethical Consumer turned up its signature "active boycott list," which tallies current boycotts of high-profile retail and consumer products companies for all manner of alleged offenses, from sweatshop factory conditions to environmental infractions and animal rights abuses.
Ethical Consumer also researches company behavior and measures that data against 23 ethical criteria.
Want to know a company's political leanings and campaign contributions? This nonpartisan organization, a part of the Center for Responsive Politics, tracks just that. Consumers can type in a company name on the site and pull up a record of its political contributions.
This site also follows the political spending trends and patterns of major industries.
Shoppers inclined to gauge the cause-worthiness of their purchases can consult the Good Guide, a definitive source of information on the health, environmental and social impacts of retail consumer products.