Battle for the soul of capitalism

March 17, 2021, 10:26 AM UTC

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Good morning.

Few CEOs have made a stronger commitment to stakeholder capitalism than Danone’s recently deposed Emmanuel Faber. He was the first to adopt the French government’s new Entreprise à Mission model of corporate governance and he was working to become a B Corporation as well. When he spoke with Ellen McGirt and me for our podcast Leadership Next, he told us:

We want Danone to become a B Corp because we believe that in the world in which we live, and certainly in the world we are entering right now, there will be increased attention paid to the ethos of companies and of brands by consumers, governments, employees, civic society, and many more. 

“Look at the reality. There are many stakeholders jumping into the scope of our business, whether we like it or not. When governments are just shutting down borders, forbidding exports or imports, when they are forcing localization, when in Argentina you have nationalization of soy companies…When health authorities are closing channels and sending everyone home…these are all stakeholders. Stakeholder capitalism is a fact.”

Some shareholders seem to disagree. They’ve been frustrated that Danone’s returns underperformed comparable companies like Nestlé and Unilever. And they demanded—and got—change at the top. What remains to be seen is whether new management can improve relations with shareholders without throwing Faber’s stakeholder approach under the bus.

This, of course, is similar to the battle Unilever went through in 2017 when challenged by Kraft-Heinz, which we talked with former CEO Paul Polman about, also on Leadership Next. Polman won that battle, and ultimately proved that what was good for stakeholders also was good for shareholders. Danone’s challenge now is to do the same. Stay tuned. The future of capitalism hangs in the balance.

More news below.

Alan Murray


Vaccine passports

Today's the day the European Commission will reveal its plan for a "digital green pass" that allows vaccinated people to travel freely across the bloc again. Meanwhile in China, foreign citizens will be allowed to enter the country again if they've received a vaccine—but it has to be a Chinese vaccine. Wall Street Journal

Uber benefits

When the U.K. Supreme Court last month ruled Uber drivers were workers who needed to get minimum wage and paid leave, the company tried to spin the decision as one that applied only to the handful of plaintiffs in the case. Now it seems Uber has taken the time to re-read what the court said, because it just announced it will grant those benefits to all its drivers in the country. What's more, it's now calling on other gig economy platforms to "join us in improving the quality of work for these important workers who are an essential part of our everyday lives." However, unions complain Uber missed the part of the ruling that says drivers must get benefits for all the time they're logged into the app, not just when a passenger is in the car. Fortune

Chip shortage

Samsung is the latest tech giant to warn about the ongoing global chip shortage, warning of an impact on its business next quarter. Samsung co-CEO Koh Dong-jin: "Despite the difficult environment, our business leaders are meeting partners overseas to solve these problems. It’s hard to say the shortage issue has been solved 100%." The company may even skip this year's version of its Galaxy Note flagship, though it claims this would be a streamlining measure. Meanwhile, Honda is suspending some of its North American production due to the shortage. Bloomberg

Wikipedia and Google

Wikipedia hasn't previously charged Google for reproducing its content when giving users information about the stuff they're searching for, but that's about to change. The Wikimedia Foundation has announced a commercial product that will basically do that, and agreements may materialize in a few months' time, but for now the foundation will seek the reactions of its thousands of volunteer contributors. Wired


AstraZeneca fallout

Fortune's Europe team examines the turmoil caused by most EU countries' suspension of the AstraZeneca COVID vaccine, which goes against the advice of medical regulators. Meanwhile, Australia has asked the drugmaker and European authorities if they can send the batch that Italy blocked to Papua New Guinea, which needs the doses quite urgently. Fortune

Vaccination bonus

"Long haul" COVID sufferers have been reporting the alleviation of their symptoms once they get vaccinated. Doctors are perplexed…but wouldn't it be awesome if that really was a bonus effect of the vaccines? Washington Post

Election tech

Big Tech pulled out all the stops to ban or limit political advertising in the run-up to November's U.S. election, but those limits were nowhere in sight for today's election in the Netherlands. The result? "Google and Facebook tracked visitors to 13 and eight political party websites respectively without their consent using cookie tracking technology, in violation of EU privacy standards." Politico

SpaceX history

A new book on the early days of SpaceX recounts how the company was almost toast in 2008, when it had one last shot at attempting a successful rocket launch, only for the rocket to start imploding while in transit. Engineer Zach Dunn crawled into the rocket's belly and "his quick fix saved the company—and possibly his own life." Business Insider

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.

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