People opposed to Amazon's plan to locate a headquarters in New York City hold a protest inside of an Amazon book store on Nov. 26, 2018. Increased demand for more transparency in business practices will force companies like Amazon, Google, and Facebook to adapt.
Stephanie Keith—Getty Images
By Kathy Bloomgarden
January 2, 2019

Doing the right thing in business is no longer synonymous with philanthropy. It now means investing in your people, future talent, environmental impact, and long term business priorities. In fact, in its newly released 2018 company rankings, JUST Capital emphasized how “just” companies are also very business-minded. Over the course of the year, companies ranked by JUST Capital consistently outperformed those not ranked.

The JUST Capital ranking looks at what matters to Americans when it comes to corporate responsibility. While it was no surprise many of the attributes found in JUST 100 companies were also consistently talked about in 2018—equal pay, flexible work hours, a focus on diversity, a good showing of female leadership—what I found most interesting is what isn’t necessarily considered of top concern now.

Those issues, however, will be increasingly more important as companies strive to become more socially minded in the future. These include:

Job training

Job training is a topic that will become more prevalent as companies strive to become more focused on people. With the looming threat of automation, companies need to consider investing in reskilling. For instance, IBM has already invested in vocational training schools like the Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools (P-TECH) to prepare the next generation of workers for jobs that range from engineers to digital design developers.

AT&T also recently initiated a $1 billion effort to retrain 250,000 employees in science, technology, engineering, and math with the aim of staying competitive in areas such as data science, cybersecurity, and computer science.

Transparency

Transparency will also continue to play a larger role. Consumers access online reviews and discussions, and even social media accounts of CEOs as a means of gaining more access and knowledge about products and companies. So, it’s only natural that transparency will be integral to the future success of JUST businesses.

For example, in response to pressure from consumers inquiring about product ingredients, P&G committed to sharing online all fragrance ingredients—which were reduced to 0.01% for all products—by the end of 2019.

And Patagonia, a company dedicated to sustainable business practices, has taken a very public commitment to ensure every step of its supply chain focuses on the highest of ethical and environmental standards through its “Footprint Chronicles,” whereby the company publishes detailed reports of its manufacturing process, product sourcing policies, and fair wage practices.

Privacy

In today’s world, privacy and a company’s ability to secure personal data has become an essential component of strong business practice. Facebook, for instance, is in the news yet again for exempting business partners from its usual privacy rules, allegedly allowing companies like Netflix and Amazon to access user’s friends and private messages. It’s not just criticism—Facebook is also being sued and accused of deceiving people “about who had access to their data and how it was used.”

As companies store additional data about consumers, hackers are becoming more sophisticated and data breaches even more common. Google, Amazon, and other companies that produce smart home products are getting more pressure to ensure their devices—such as Google Home and Amazon Echo—protect consumer’s private conversations and prevent video footage from falling into the wrong hands. Therefore, the ability to protect the privacy of users will be an even more significant attribute in a JUST company.

Community engagement

Interactions with communities are becoming necessary as companies integrate further into the locations where they are based. Take Amazon’s recent search for new headquarters as an example. It garnered both excitement and criticism from the communities involved, with New York recently announcing the creation of a Community Advisory Committee to help manage local input. It’s evident that companies like Amazon—which has a significant impact on the local job market, housing market, and population—will need to look at ways it can collaborate with and support community members.

In this new age of corporate governance, issues like gender equality, equal pay, diversity, and environmental responsibility are becoming second nature in daily business discussions. New stakes, however, will develop with regards to what it means to be a JUST company and what components need to come together to make a company both competitive and successful.

Kathy Bloomgarden is chief executive officer of Ruder Finn Inc. and is also author of Trust: The Secret Weapon of Effective Business Leaders.

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