Is one bad Apple spoiling the bunch?

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The reigning business mantra is that social responsibility is a corporate side hustle.  If a market-driven opportunity to create some social impact presents itself, by all means capture it.  But make no mistake, we’ve been told, the private corporation is beholden to one master: the shareholder.  And the supreme interests of the shareholder shall not be infringed.

So what happens when shareholders demand social responsibility?  Apple tells its owners to back off:

For the second year in a row, a shareowner resolution requesting the publication by Apple of an annual sustainability report has been filed, and for the second year in a row Apple’s Board of Directors has recommended that shareowners vote down the proposal.

As You Sow, which supports activist shareholders looking to promote social impact, filed the resolution, stating that:

Among our industry peers, Dell, IBM, and Hewlett-Packard have taken leadership roles in these areas through publication of comprehensive sustainability reports that address their company’s impacts with regards to issues such as greenhouse gas emissions reduction, toxics, and supply chain working conditions

But Apple has put forth a lot of green initiatives over the past few years.  The Board of Directors, in its proxy statement, maintains that the company provides an unmatched level of detail on environmental performance, and that publishing such a sustainability report would add little value.

What do you think?  Are there too many reporting standards out there and should we just be content to critically examine what the company does put out?  Or does Apple risk looking bad next to its peers?

Posted on February 15th 2010 in news

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