Top U.S. CEOs say companies should put social responsibility above
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[August 20, 2019] By
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Corporate America is
responsible for providing economic benefits to all, not just its
investors, the Business Roundtable group said on Monday.
The group's "statement of corporate purpose" was signed by the heads of
more than 180 U.S. companies, including the CEOs of Amazon.com Inc <AMZN.O>,
American Airlines <AAL.O>, the largest airline in the world; and
JPMorgan Chase & Co <JPM.N>, the biggest American bank.
Although largely symbolic, the group's statement goes against a roughly
30-year viewpoint that corporations exist to serve shareholders.
That notion has guided every major business decision, from how much a
CEO is paid to whether a company invests in its employees or fires them.
The statement comes amid calls for greater corporate responsibility from
Democratic candidates for president and employee activists who want
companies to take stances on issues outside of the corporate sphere.
The chairman of the Business Roundtable, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, said
there is a growing wealth gap in the United States, and prioritizing all
stakeholders will lead to a healthier economy.
"The American dream is alive, but fraying," Dimon said in a statement.
"Major employers are investing in their workers and communities because
they know it is the only way to be successful over the long term."
The statement outlined five commitments, including to invest in
employees by providing fair wages and "important benefits," support
communities and "protect the environment."
The group's statement could be significant because the previous tenet -
shareholder primacy - fueled a range of decisions now commonplace at
publicly traded companies, said Barbara Dyer, an MIT Sloan School of
"If you think that the primary thing is to generate shareholder value
then you want to cut down any costs that are unduly high," Dyer said.
In the 1980s, that led to staff cuts and efforts to break unions.
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JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon speaks at the North America's
Building Trades Unions (NABTU) 2019 legislative conference in
Washington, U.S., April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon
Dyer said the Business Roundtable may have changed its perspective now because
the tight labor market presents an opportunity to rethink "how we view and how
we invest in people."
She added, however, that it is unclear whether the statement represents a real
turning point and said she was skeptical it will create major changes, for
example, in how executive compensation is structured. "I donít have any
illusions that that's going to change any time soon."
Maura Cowley, a director with the Sierra Club Resist campaign, said the
statement lacks substance because some of the companies that signed it are
"actively making the climate crisis worse."
"It's hard to take this letter seriously without further details or next steps,"
Cowley wrote in an emailed statement. "Until these sentiments are met with
substantial action by these companies it is hard to see this as anything other
than words on paper."
One investor group, the Council of Institutional Investors, criticized the
group's statement, saying that "accountability to everyone means accountability
to no one." Investors are a positive force pushing companies to focus on
long-term performance, it said.
"It is government, not companies, that should shoulder the responsibility of
defining and addressing societal objectives with limited or no connection to
long-term shareholder value," the Council said.
The AFL-CIO labor group did not immediately reply to a request for comment on
the Business Roundtable's statement.
(Reporting By Elizabeth Dilts; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Dan Grebler)
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