|David Brown is a language consultant and journalist, regularly covering stories in Africa, Asia & the Middle East. He has lived in Finland for 10 years.|
Many companies genuinely care about greenhouse gases and slavery, but it is hypocritical for any company to claim to do so without looking at how their own staff are treated.
Never in the history of capitalism have companies cared so much or so vocally about social issues as they do today. Almost every major corporation promotes its vision of environmental awareness; reducing their carbon footprint, recycling raw materials and building a more sustainable business model. Major brands promote equal opportunity employment, support everything from local sports to new children’s’ hospitals, and generally do a fine job of appearing to care.
You could be forgiven for thinking that 21st century capitalism is a far softer version than that promoted by the likes of Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.
How wrong you’d be. As adept as today’s corporations are at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and heralding the results; the same attention is not lavished upon their own staff. In fact, there has probably never been a worse time to work for a major corporation than today.
In 1965, the average US CEO earned 20 times as much as the average worker in his company. By 1990 that ratio was 58:1. Today that ratio is 273:1, meaning that a worker who earns €2,500 per month is likely working for someone who earns €682,500 per month.
Research conducted in the US last year found that the average CEO’s salary across the 350 largest firms was US$14.1 million. Although few CEO’s in this country make anything like that, the imbalance between executive and “normal” salaries is sliding ever closer towards the American model.
Consider for a moment the amount of people who lost their job last year. Stories seem to surface about this on a daily basis – a hundred jobs cut here, another thousand there. Not only are companies constantly downsizing, they are loading more work on to the staff who remain. Shouldn’t those workers then receive more than they did before the cuts?
I meet workers everyday who are exhausted and overworked – and who often find that their bonus plans have been suspended because the company had a bad year. Worse still, the same seems to happen when the company has a good year.
The ethics of a CEO taking home a half million euros every month while slashing incentive schemes he claims the company cannot afford is unethical. Worse, it is bad business. It gnaws away at motivation and work satisfaction – the real glue that holds teams together. It engenders a culture of disloyalty and greed, an “I’m alright Jack” attitude quite the opposite from that driving genuinely sustainable business models.
While I am sure many management boards genuinely do care about greenhouse gas emissions, slavery and money laundering, it is hypocritical beyond belief for any company to claim to do so without also looking at how their own staff are treated.
Are their staff rewarded, motivated, challenged and genuinely cared about? If the answer to that question in your firm is “no” – try to sneak a look at the CEO’s salary. It might make his speech on social responsibility seem a little flat.