Conscientious consumers who want to make sure the companies they support share their social values can turn to a new website that rates several big corporations on issues.
Dan Porter, of Portland, Maine, launched www.idealswork.com six months ago. It ranks companies on such issues as whether they treat women fairly or if they support nuclear arms.
Porter, 48, gathers the information from a Washington, D.C.-based firm, Investor Responsibility Research Center. His system allows users to rank companies on issues that are important to them.
”If I buy a shirt made with sweatshop labor and abuse of laborers, I’m supporting that,” Porter said. “Every dollar you spend is a vote for the world you want to see.”
If you wash your face with Dove, moisturize with Pond’s cream, then slide on some Degree deodorant, then the Anglo-Dutch company Unilever is a major part of your life.
Porter’s website gives Unilever its highest marks for corporate practices but rates it low under labor issues because of work stoppages.
Company officials said they could not recall any work stoppages in the past year.
Still, companies are aware that their actions are under constant scrutiny.
”We’re involved in everyone’s everyday life. The way we behave as a corporation is as important as the brands we deliver to consumers,” said Perry Yeatman, vice president for corporate affairs for Unilever North America.
”We have seen U.S. consumers will boycott products” that they feel have not been produced consistent with their values.
Don Barr, marketing coordinator for the Florida division of the Fresh Market that has stores in Pembroke Pines and nine other locations throughout the state, said his company goes to great lengths to make sure it lives up to its name.
”We’re very careful who we buy products from,” Barr said. “We’ll go to their facilities. We’ll check their plants, and we’ll look into it and research and spend a lot of time to make sure we have a reputable and reliable company we’re dealing with.”
A recent study found that 78 percent of Americans think companies have a responsibility to support social issues, and 91 percent said if they found out about a company’s negative corporate practices, they would switch brands.
The 2002 Cone Corporate Citizenship Study is based on 1,040 telephone interviews conducted in July throughout the nation.
Corporate responsibility is a topic that will be discussed at the Business for Social Responsibility 10th annual convention at the Hotel Inter-Continental in downtown Miami Nov. 5-8.
”Companies that contracted with Southeast Asia and China did not realize child labor and exploitative practices were taking place in those contractor factories until it was pointed out,” said David Eichberg, senior manager for San Francisco-based, nonprofit organization BSR. The group plans to meet about 800 business leaders, including Unilever during the conference.
Recent examples include The Gap, Target, Abercrombie & Fitch and J.C. Penney, which had to pay a combined total of $20 million in sweatshop suits, according to published reports. The companies did not admit to any wrongdoing but agreed to stop buying garments from Saipan, a 13-mile-long island in the western Pacific.
”There’s a risk that is going to prove more costly by not knowing than by knowing,” Eichberg said.