"The greatness and the genuine trait of your thought and writings lie on the fact that you positively and interestingly make use of philosophical thoughts and thoughtfulness in order to deeply and concretely cogitate about America's social issues. . . . This does not mean that your thought is reducible to your era: your thought, being inspired by issues characterizing your era . . . , overcomes your era and will still likely be up to date even after your era, for future generations." Bruno Valentin

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Goodwill Dismisses a Solid Societal Norm: A Mentality beyond Unethical Conduct

When managers of a business or non-profit interact with a societal norm by openly rejecting any obligation to act in accord with the norm, the reaction from stakeholders can be utter disbelief. The refusal to act in accordance with the norm as it impacts the organization can be beyond bad management and even unethical conduct. The refusal to acknowledge a societal norm even as its impact on the business and stakeholders has been arranged by the business is beyond, though it can include, unethical conduct. Norms are not in themselves ethical, for as David Hume wrote, you can’t get an ought from an is; rational justification by ethical principles must be added before we can get to, “You ought to do X” from “X is the practice.” Yet ethical principles can be in norms, in which case we can say, “You ought to act in accordance with the norm because it is ethical.” In some cases, the norm-business relationship (i.e., Business and Society) can be more salient than an ethical principle in the norm itself. A managerial practice at Goodwill, a non-profit retailer based on donations for the poor, serves as a case in point.

Goodwill stores have tags of several colors on the merchandise. During yellow tag week, merchandise with a yellow tag is half off. Every other Saturday, all of the colors are half off. By the time the doors open, customers have likely formed a long line out in front. Such lines can cover most of the front length of a store. On one such morning at one store, I saw a customer stand by the front doors opposite of the line just five minutes before the opening. I saw the store manager let that customer in second, even though it was obvious that she was not in line. Curious, I entered the store to interview that manager. He told me that his responsibility is only to open the doors, not to determine that some people can come in and others cannot. His lapse would have been easily fixed not by telling the woman, who did not evidently think that store lines applied to her, that she could not enter the store, but, rather, that she would have to go to the back of the line. I asked the manager whether he believed that the line did not pertain to his store. “It is not on our property,” he answered. “We can’t say what people can do out there.” Observing my facial expression, he said he would make sure that customers come in first who are in line, and he even made an announcement lightly chastising “the individuals” who had not waited in line.
Nevertheless, later the same day, I returned to the store to interview two of the associate store managers, both of whom also touted the property point. “So if I come here just before 9am in two weeks, I don’t have to stand in line; I could go second or third?” I asked. “Yes,” one of the associate managers said, even as her hesitation in answering came, I suspect, from a recognition that her answer violates the ethical principle of fairness. This recognition should have given her the sense that something was wrong with the policy she was supporting.
Even though the violation of justice as fairness—it is just that people enter a building in order hence via making a line—is salient in this case, the fact that managers of a store disassociated it from the line to get into the store, hence pertaining directly to the store, is even more bizarre and thus significant. The societal norm here is that customers forming a line outside a store before doors open are to be let in first. For a manager to open a store door and assume that the norm does not apply to his store, and thus does not form an obligation on his part to see that the customers in line go in first, removes him, in effect, from the society or environment in which the store functions.
Even the narrow property-limits rationale is bizarre, for Goodwill leased rather than bought the land and building, and the line of customers pertained to the store even though it did not extend to the sidewalk in front between the building and the parking lot. That the line pertained exclusively to getting into the store overrides the question of property in terms of the incurrence of an obligation because the customers in line had the societal expectation of being able to enter the store in order whether or not the sidewalk was owned by Goodwill. The managers with whom I spoke dismissed the customer’s expectation, whose legitimacy is societal (a societal norm) rather than company-based. The sheer dismissiveness is rude, not to mention bad customer service. Even though the ethical principle of fairness is in the societal norm, the bad attitude toward the customers, the lazy approach to opening the store’s front door, and the decision that the societal norm does not apply to that store are not necessarily unethical (or at least an ethical argument would need to be made).
Narrow self-interest, which business managers tend to adopt, is not in itself unethical. For one thing, the business and financial systems have infrastructures and norms that virtually necessitate it at the firm level. Even so, if stakeholders (or others) are harmed as a consequence, then the narrowness is culpable ethically. In this case study, the harm to the customers in line from one person entering second from opposite the line is small. Few of the customers in line could even see the interloper, and none of the customers—in line or afterward—would have guessed that the store manager’s initial position (and those of two of his associate managers) regarding the store’s responsibility to let the people in line in first.
In fact, that the associate manager who answered affirmatively that I would not need to stand in line (because Goodwill is only concerned, by right, with what goes on inside the stores) had come to such a nonsensical conclusion (and stood behind it) is not in itself unethical. She was not lying, for instance; she really believed herself. Moreover, that a person could believe anything so nonsensical (including the property argument) is also not unethical. Perhaps in the field of business and society, psychology figures in more than does even ethics. Of course, the norms-based field of business and society is (or ought to be!) distinct from business ethics even though the two relate, such as in there being an ethical principle (e.g., fairness) in a societal norm that is not in itself ethical because it merely is.

When Retail Marketing Goes Too Far

Marketing by retailers can go too far; this claim should be no surprise. That this has been so even when the marketing comes at the expense of existing customers may be less well-known and thus be in need of some elaboration. The underlying culprit, I submit, is psychological: difficulty with keeping within even societal and even self-imposed constraints. Put simply, the difficulty is with limits. The mentality is thus at the child-stage of development.
Service to the customer is a business mantra. In fact, an increasing number of retailers refer to their respective customers as guests. Target was among the first to do so. Then restaurants followed and even some of the services. One hair salon in Scottsdale, Arizona, even has guest parking, but the signs are technically lies; the slots are actually for customers, who have been conveniently renamed guests. It might be concluded that American business has been trying to outdo itself in how the customer is treated.

Some indications, however, suggest that existing customers may have been increasingly overlooked, at least as of 2019, in favor of gaining additional customers. In some fast-food restaurants in the U.S., for example, promotional signs on the large windows adjacent to the tables obstructed the ability of sitting customers to look outside the building. After spending money for a meal, who wants to look at giant promotions geared to prospective customers approaching or passing by the restaurant?

On an increasing number of city buses, advertisements covering the side windows made it more difficult for existing customers to see outside the bus, whether to enjoy the ride or determine where to get off the bus. In effect, all this says to the existing customers: the people outside are more important than you so regrettably we have to disrupt or detract your experience with us in some small ways. The regret is a lie, as is the lack of choice in the matter, and the impact on customer experience can be large. 
When the value given to existing customers is lessened while the price held constant or even increased, the gain goes to the business and the loss to the existing customers. Even in being hampered in trying to see outside a bus, the passenger suffers a loss because he or she would otherwise get the benefits of being able to see clearly through the windows. In fact, why even have windows if they are to be covered in various colors? Even the feeling of having been passively slighted in some way is part of the loss. From the standpoint of the business, existing customers are a given; the aim is to "grow" the business by attracting new customers even if at the expense of the current ones. 
The practice of taking away from the value that customers receive implies an unwillingness to be constrained even by the value-exchange set up by the companies. Perhaps the hope is that few passengers would notice the change and eventually it would be regarded as part of the status quo. The expectation of being able to see clearly through a bus window is replaced. 
Even in terms of cultural norms regarding the American holidays, retailers have gradually pushed up Christmas displays to September. You know something is wrong when you see Christmas trees and decorations then in front of the Halloween decorations and costumes. This shows that some manager did not even feel constrained to give each holiday its due. This can be viewed as an extension of not feeling constrained (by the existing value-exchange) to give existing customers their due. 

At another Lowes, the Christmas displays completely blocked the Halloween pumkins from being visible from the front aisle. 

Monday, July 29, 2019

Managers Going too Far: Targeting Linguistic Over-Reaches

The practice of using words beyond their contexts such that the words’ meanings are tortured and yet are pretended not to be was a trend in modern America during the 2010’s. The business manager instigated the trend in order to “gild the lily,” which means to claim more than is warranted or merited. Astonishingly, people dismissed or perhaps even didn’t recognize such over-reaches. Perhaps as long as people have used language, egos gripped in the pursuit of gain have presumed that keeping to a word’s extant meanings in a language is somehow optional.
To be sure, the malleability of words is one way in which a language changes in order to incorporate societal changes.  “I’ll text you tomorrow,” for instance, uses the noun text as a verb. Similarly, “I’ll email you later today.” These two verbifications did a lot to bring the English language up to date in the twenty-first century. Such adaptations are natural rather than pushed from an agenda.
A motive from an agenda pushes through, insisting that a word can be used all of a sudden in another context in which the meaning does not apply. In other words, the agenda reverberates from the sheer over-intensity of the insistence, or declaration, even above objections that are correct. Once a manager of a Target retail store insisted to me that the shoppers are guests rather than mere customers. Her tone was so forceful I could hear aggression in it. That manager was like arrogance on stilts during a flood; her claim should have been underwater.
Gilding the lily even more, some of those guests are members. It was strange indeed to be asked by a cashier, “Are you a member?” “Of what,” I would naturally wonder, as clubs had members and Target was not a club because it had customers who were not members (and even the members didn’t have to pay dues!). In short, the company was going too far in insisting that its customers be called guests and members, as if the company were a house or club, respectively. When I have guests over and I give them gifts, I don’t charge them for it. In no sense is a customer a guest, especially considering how bad customer service can be. To find an employee referring to a customer as a guest and yet treating the person very badly demonstrates a real disconnect within the employee’s mind, and yet this has been common even since customers “became” (as if naturally) guests and members. Nothing had changed on the store end in terms of customer service, so insisting that customers are to be called guests and members was to pretend that the commercial relationship was something more than it really is. It is this something more that points to the underlying motive: trying to get something more by pretending something that really is not the case. Wanting to pretend that the customer is something better, rather than that word somehow had been sullied and thus naturally to be jettisoned, was the motive. Telling customers that they are guests rather than customers would reflect instead on the company’s arrogance and being in a state of denial.
As another example of going too far in order to claim more than is warranted, Target also designated its retail-area heads as area owners. So, one employee is the owner of the home furnishings, for instance. In a corporation, the stockholders own the corporate wealth collectively. To bestow the title of owner onto an employee simply because he or she is in charge of a given area of the store implies that the employee’s authority is more than it really is. In the process, the meaning of the word owner is violated without even an acknowledgement. Again, a state of denial plays the mental function of protecting the over-reach such that even the over-reach is not recognized as such. It is almost like the managers were living in fantasy lands governed by the simple rule: if changing a word’s meaning helps the business, then make the change and pretend that no such change was made. .

Thursday, May 9, 2019

General Electric: Tax Avoidance with Former IRS Employees In-House

The name of the game in all too many corporate tax departments is to minimize the tax due as much as possible. No countervailing notion of “corporate citizenship” or even “fair share” exists in that economic world of single-minded minimization of what is to be paid out. Put another way, responsibility does not compute in the business calculus. Advocates of corporate social responsibility got this wrong for decades by naively assuming that people who work in management roles cannot compartmentalize. Whether due to the strictures of a job description or financial pressures on a company, managers themselves may regret having to compartmentalize in order to keep their respective jobs. Sadly, all too often, a manager faces internal and external pressure to sign off on something that is admittedly unfair or too greedy. That the playing field itself may be slanted in the financial interests of large businesses goes beyond a manager's pay-grade, and even that of a corporation itself. For one to speak out in order to make the tilt explicit in society would deny the operative role of compartmentalization. Managers, even CEO's, may personally want a level playing field wherein corporations cannot yield an undue amount of wealth at the expense of other entities or persons, such a desire is outside of the business calculus. 
One manifestation of the tilted field is the ability of companies to bring IRS agents in-house as employees. In the debate on whether to end the George W. Bush Tax Cuts, the nominal (or statue) tax rates were salient. Much less was said of the effective rates, which are calculated by dividing the actual tax paid by total income (individuals) or net income (corporations). The New York Times reported in 2011: Although “the top corporate tax rate in the United States is 35 percent, one of the highest in the world, companies have been increasingly using a maze of shelters, tax credits and subsidies to pay far less.”[1] Although perfectly legal, the undue advantage means that the U.S. Government has had to look for other sources of revenue to make up for the lost revenue or do without the revenue, using debt to compensate. The "perfectly legal" aspect points back to the tax laws, and, more particularly, at the undue or even improper influence of the business sector in Congress. In fact, lest it be concluded that the business calculus is the reason for the tax avoidance (which is legal, unlike tax evasion), the financial power of business tilts the field not only by having too much influence in the crafting of tax legislation, but also in being able to hire ex-IRS employees to get "the inside scoop" on avoidance tactics. I now turn to the case of General Electric (GE) in 2010. 
General Electric reported global profits that year of $14.2 billion, $5.1 billion of which came from operations in the United States. Rather than owing any federal income tax on the $5.1 billion, however, the company claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion. Behind the “fierce lobbying for tax breaks and innovative accounting that enable[d] [the company] to concentrate its profits offshore,” the company’s tax department was led at the time by a former U.S. Treasury official, John Samuels.[2] Moreover, the department included “formal officials not just from the Treasury, but also from the I.R.S. and virtually all the tax-writing committees in Congress.”[3] G.E. had essentially brought the tax-writing and enforcement skill of the U.S. Government “in house.” As paid employees of G.E., the former government expertise was put under the aims of the private company, an organizational machine solely oriented to maximizing profit, whether short term or long.
Generally speaking, companies of such enormous financial wherewithal that annual profits are in billions of dollars can appropriate and harness governmental machinery for the sake of private gain. The issue here is not simply the existence of too much tax avoidance, hence at the expense of fairness; rather, the underlying problem is whether the existence of such large and powerful private enterprises is compatible with a democratic form of government. It is certainly not in the interest of the business sector that this question be interjected into public discourse. So the vested powerful interests, working through political stand-ins and the media, which itself is largely corporate, preoccupied with secondary issues, such as nominal individual tax rates, off-shore factories, and NAFTA. NBC, for instance, was owned by G.E. before being bought by Comcast. 
To be sure, the mantra well-known to many Americans in the 1950s, What is good for GM (or GE) is good for America, was supported by the notion that economic prosperity benefits everyone and a profitable company hires more employees than does an unprofitable company. What if the societal absorption of the value of this ideology made it possible for the business sector to have so much influence in Congress that the corporate taxpayers have practically been able to write their own tax laws? What if a pro-business society is too vulnerable to the rule by wealth (i.e., a plutocracy) that this underbelly can even keep itself hidden from view? Flaws exist in the assumption that what is good for GM or GE is good for America. Abstractly speaking, the good of a part is not necessarily the good of the whole. Private gain is more limited than is public gain. So if some of the parts come to dominate the whole and even define it in their own terms or image, the other parts and even the whole can be taken advantage of on the tilted board.

1. David Kocieniewski, “G.E.’s Strategies Let It Avoid Taxes Altogether,” The New York Times, March 24, 2011.
2. Bonnie Kavoussi, “General Electric Avoids Taxes By Keeping $108 Billion Overseas,” The Huffington Post, March 11, 2013.
3. David Kocieniewski, “G.E.’s Strategies Let It Avoid Taxes Altogether.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

McDonald’s Over-Reach: Blending a Restaurant and a Coffee Shop

In spite of essentially flat sales in the U.S. in February 2013 from the same month in 2012, McDonald’s CEO, Don Thompson, said he was confident that the people at the company had sufficient experience to “grow the business for the long term.” Even assuming that a business can be grown as if it were a geranium plant, the claim can be critiqued both in regard to the underlying assumption regarding “growth” and that of long-term viability. Fusing a restaurant with a coffee shop can be said to be an over-reach that had blended the company too much, at least at the store level.
In regard to the company’s long-term viability, changes in the business environment were important. The fast-food industry had obviously changed from 1970 to 2010, as did American society. As restaurant chains like McDonald's gained substantial economies of scale with the proliferation of restaurants, the increasing popularity of healthy meals gradually undercut the prospects for continued growth.
From "Americana" to "Enjoy Getting Fat": A change in the business environment in the last quarter of the twentieth century in the U.S. that impacted McDonalds at its core.    source: McDonalds.com
The management at McDonald's did relatively well in introducing healthy alternatives to its menu by 2010. The strategy also included blending the restaurant with a coffee shop experience, the enjoyment of which had also expanded due to Starbucks. To cut into that market, McDonald's introduced new drinks, such as smoothies, mochas and lattes, and added wireless internet service. As a result of having adjusted to the health-conscious and coffee shop mini-cultures in the business environment, McDonald’s U.S. sales rose 11.1% in February 2012 from the year before.[1] By 2013, Burger King was renovating its restaurants and adding "coffee shop" drinks too. Even so, the flat McDonald's sales figure in February 2013 was a bit of a surprise. Although the problem could have been the newly introduced fish product, I suspect that the market may have been questioning McDonald’s expansion into the coffee shop business as being an over-reach even it did enjoy certain synergies.
McDonald's was admittedly poised to give Starbucks a "run for its money" concerning that the giant coffeeshop chain had gotten away with mass-producing drinks to sell as premium prices. That coffee chain was essentially charging a premium price for non-premium products, given the manner of production. Even though McDonald's could undercut Starbucks on price and thus potentially gain market share, a McDonald's facility looked and functioned more like a restaurant than a coffeeshop where people would feel comfortable hanging out and getting work done or socializing. 
Adding to the discordance was the decision of McDonald's management to continue to stress the “dollar menu” for the “budget conscious” customer. Put somewhat delicately, the business strategy assumed that two very different market segments would co-exist in the same room. Starbucks had the same problem because of its "third place" policy, wherein people could hang out without purchasing anything. I know of at least one Starbucks' store in which the number of homeless "customers" has driven out otherwise paying customers. McDonald's management, through at least the 2010's, was essentially blurring the company's identity by seeking continued sales growth by trying to combine a restaurant with a coffee shop.
In general terms, a company’s senior management (or board of directors) should not get so caught up with important changes in the business environment that the resulting strategic change involves trying to remake the company into something the company is not. A fast-food restaurant is not a coffee shop. Although some people in the fast-food crowd would relish mocha, blending the social distance between the two cultures could result in a bitter drink that satisfies nobody. Had McDonald's management concentrated simply on adding new healthy fast-food (i.e., restaurant) products, sales would probably have improved without risking an identity crisis at the restaurant level. Alternatively, McDonald's could have built real coffee shops, with suitable furniture and decor, and synergies could still have existed. Perhaps fusing different lines of business, in cases in which each has a distinct culture and customer base, is not wise. To keep up with societal shifts and profit from them while not blurring the business’s identity is the sort of balance that a corporate management should attempt to reach and sustain in formulating strategy over the long-term.

For a critique of Starbucks, see Bucking Starbucks' Star, available at Amazon. 
1. Candice Choi, “McDonald’s Sales Drop Despite New Fish McBites,” The Huffington Post, March 8, 2013.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

A Lack of Good Will at Goodwill

Redefining words to suit a business’s financial interest is misleading, even if the herd animals who serve as customers look the other way, or, even worse, do not notice the fact that the words have been redefined! At a Goodwill store in Phoenix, Arizona,  I bought a black suit for singing in a choir. Before I paid, I asked a manager whether I could return the suit as long as I do so within a week. “Yes, you can get a refund,” he replied. Three days later, I returned to the store to return the suit. I approached an available cashier, but she told me that I had to go to the other cashier if I had a return. That cashier was not even at his register, and even when he returned I had to wait at least five minutes for one customer. Only the head cashier can process refunds, whereas any cashier can accept money—an interesting, meaning convenient, asymmetry. Money comes in easier than it goes out.
When the head cashier processed my refund, he handed me an in-store credit card. I asked the assistant store manager why a return was instead being treated as an exchange. “In the Goodwill network,” he replied, “returns are exchanges.” I was stunned. “But the two are not the same thing; returns result in refunds, which are not store credits,” I retorted. “Not at Goodwill,” the manager said in a definitive tone.
Having essentially redefined a return for a refund contrary to the word’s meaning and common usage, the ploy can be said to be misleading. Given customers’ legitimate assumption that a return results in a refund, which is not a store credit, the redefinition effectively involves false pretenses. No good will comes with such a nefarious, deliberate misuse of language. Indeed, the very name of the organization, Goodwill, connotes a lie if the good will under the roofs is lacking. 

See "It's Only Fair."

Thursday, March 7, 2019

“No Loans” on Gun Sales: G.E. as Socially Responsible or Financially Savvy?

In the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newton, Connecticut in late 2012, General Electric announced that the company would no longer finance consumers’ gun purchases. Russell Wilkerson, a G.E. spokesman, wrote in an email that the new policy was being adopted “in light of industry changes, new legislation and tragic events that have caused widespread re-examination of policies on fire-arms.” In other words, the policy shift was not simply a reaction to Sandy Hook. Rather, the company’s executives were adapting to changes in the organization’s environment, including the industry itself. This opens up the question of whether the new policy can be classified under the rubric of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Perhaps the adaptation was simply good business, with the appearance of “CSR” adding some reputational capital through a good public-relations campaign.
Do business principles mandate treating this product like any other?  Source: NBC News
Well-meaning moralists in particular may have a tendency to project their own strident sense of obligation onto other people, and even organizations as if they too could be moral agents. Yet an organization, like a biological organism, must adapt to its changing environment, or risk being replaced by a competitor that has achieved a better fit to the new environment. Does such adaptation, which renders a company more fit by means of a sort of competitive natural-selection process, involve obligation manifested as responsibility to that environment, or is the adapting simply a matter of survival and even accruing surplus? To do one’s duty is not typically said of what a person wants to do anyway in line with self-interest. A person would quickly see through my claim that it is my duty to eat the remaining chocolate sundae so not to waste food. People do not typically fall over themselves to do something out of a feeling of duty or felt responsibility. For the sense of obligation or responsibility to be the primary motivator, the person (or persons, in the case of a company) must not otherwise be inclined, as from the anticipation of a benefit, to act. When stimulated, self-interest tends to eclipse the feeling of duty of responsibility. This thesis can be applied to GE’s policy on financing firearm purchases. 
First, though, can the policy be said to fall under the rubric of corporate social responsibility? What if marketing the policy was simply good business? The societal benefit in making it more difficult for people to buy guns may simply have been intended as a byproduct. Surely the societal good of a byproduct has worth even without having been motivated when the policy was chosen. Even so, the primacy of self-interest--the profit motive--irrationally taints the resulting societal good. Such a company's societal reputation would be enhanced by the good of the byproduct and decreased by the primary motivation of self-interest.  
How salient was the profit-motive in GE's decision to stop lending on gun sales, and how great was the impact in terms of the benefit to society, beyond the company? GE Capital Finance had already stopped providing consumer financing for new gun-shop customers in 2008. The policy change in 2013 merely extended the ban to existing customers. So it is not as though potentially new customers would be discouraged from buying a gun on impulse for nefarious purposes. The impact on the bottom line from lost sales could not have been assumed to be great; even if new and existing gun customers had been eligible for financing before the policy change in 2013, we would still be talking about a small fraction of GE’s revenue. Additionally, according to USA Today in 2013, GE’s “decision affects fewer than 75 retailers, which GE says is about 0.001% of all gun retailers.” This is because the policy “affects only retailers that sell firearms exclusively.” General merchandise stores, such as Walmart, were excluded from the company’s lending ban. 
However, Wells Fargo had stopped financing gun purchases in 2004 “for business reasons,” according to company spokeswoman Lisa Westermann. Perhaps it was good business at GE too, but not directly. 
Indeed, the "corporate social responsibility" policy as promotion could have been expected to boost sales companywide without much cost in foregone gun sales on credit to new customers in gun stores only. In fact, the policy as promoted could even be misleading, as in the article's title in USA Today, “GE Won’t Make Loans to Buy Guns” even though GE would still be financing guns—just not through stores that sell only guns. The gap itself between the publicized and actual policy could mean that the managers' intent had been to use “marketed CSR” to boost the company's reputational capital with as little cost as possible. In other words, the profit-motive was likely the motive. If most of GE’s lending on gun purchases was through multi-merchandise retail stores, GE could capitalize financially on sympathy from the school shooting without having to give up much financially. Interestingly, the shooter’s father, Peter Lanza, was a GE executive at the time—the company being based in Fairfield, Connecticut. Had other GE executives felt obligated, also being at such close range to the tragedy, to protect the kids, we would not have seen the sort of motivation that led to the exceptions and allowing the misleading storyline to go uncorrected. Were the primary intent that of protecting kids at schools from getting shot, the loopholes would not have been allowed to exist even if GE had to wait for contract renewals with general-purpose retailers such as Walmart.  
Often corporate social responsibility and business ethics are conflated. The distinction in this case is clear. The fitness of a policy to societal norms is a descriptive matter of whether organizational values are in sync with societal ones, whereas the misleading claim to have have ended loans on gun sales is a normative matter. Whether the norm in GE is consistent with the societal norm on the role of guns in the tragedies does not require justification by ethical reasoning and principles or theories. In contrast, whether a company should be misleading or even fail to stop it in the press necessarily includes resort to ethical principles, for only they can justify the claim that the motive or consequence is unethical. 
Still another lesson to take from this case involves the choice to wade into a controversial societal issue. As in the case of gun control, which is really about access to guns, entering a controversial debate puts a company at risk for being negatively viewed by the “other side.” This could significantly reduce the good  to the company obtained from the use of corporate social responsibility. 
A USA Today poll taken at the time of the policy change in 2013 found public support for new gun-control legislation “slipping below” 50 percent. GE risked many people agreeing with John Meek, the owner of a gun store in Illinois, who called GE’s policy “an injustice” because the instrument rather than the user is being blamed. Howard Schultz of Starbucks, in contrast, correctly judged the changing American attitude toward gay marriage in using the company to promote the cause, even if a CEO using a company for a personal political agenda is unethical. A dramatically changing shift in societal mores, norms, or attitudes is like a wave that managers strategizing corporate social responsibility programs and policies can ride, whether the motive is financial gain only or includes improving the social good. What might seem like an easy way to enhance a company's societal reputation can easily backfire if not done with attention to a changing business environment. 


Paul Davidson, “GE Won’t Make Loans to Buy Guns,” USA Today, April 25, 2013.