business news in context, analysis with attitude

There is a fascinating piece in Bloomberg Businessweek looking at Unilever’s unique approach to a kind of virtuous capitalism, which would seem to position the $170 billion conglomerate as an outlier, more concerned about customers than shareholders, crafting what the story calls “a sincere rebuttal to the bottom-line-above-all demands of shareholder capitalism” that also is good for the bottom line.

An excerpt:

“Under Chief Executive Officer Paul Polman, Unilever is seeking to espouse a trendy sentiment—that it’s possible to make more money by acting virtuously—on a global stage. That means selling environmentally friendly detergent, installing thousands of water pumps in African villages, even removing gender stereotypes from advertising. The initiatives are tied together by two arguments.

First, that ethically discerning shoppers in the developed world—or, less charitably, Gwyneth Paltrow among the urban bourgeoisie—are willing to pay a premium for products that do less harm to the planet. And second, that encouraging health and happiness in emerging markets will turn millions of the global poor into consumers for the first time. In theory, they’ll be loyal to the brands that sought them out.”

It is a really good, really provocative piece, and you can read it here.

At the same time, the New York Times had an interview with Apple CEO Tim Cook, in which the story describes him as “one of the many business leaders in the country who appear to be filling the void, using his platform at Apple to wade into larger social issues that typically fell beyond the mandate of executives in past generations. He said he had never set out to do so, but he feels he has been thrust into the role as virtually every large American company has had to stake out a domestic policy.”

In arguing that business has a moral component as well as a fiscal responsibility, Cook says, “The reality is that government, for a long period of time, has for whatever set of reasons become less functional and isn’t working at the speed that it once was. And so it does fall, I think, not just on business but on all other areas of society to step up.”

Interesting piece - with some nuance and even some contradictions - that you can read here.
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