Way back in prehistoric times when I was in college, the first thing they taught us in business, marketing and advertising was the old adage that “good will is good business.” The idea was that public relations was easy. You just have to write about all the good works that your company is doing and sit back and watch the love (and profits) collect.
I’m no longer in the advertising business. In fact, being a laborer on the lower rung of the business hierarchy, I no longer make any strategic decisions—other than when to cut and run for lunch. Still, something in the way current corporations conduct business and ‘good will” eats at me.
According to their website, Wal-Mart is a philanthropic giant—doling out over 958.9 million dollars in global charitable contributions in the past fiscal year. A billion dollars. Yet this is the same company that revolutionized the retail workplace by squeezing wages and benefits to unprecedented poverty levels for its own associates. At Wal-Mart, they don’t give benefits for part-time employment but, instead, direct their workers on how to apply for government assistance. And Wal-Mart is such a dominant and successful player in the market, they’ve forced hundreds of companies to emulate their hard-line, dispassionate policies.
This is good will?
I’m picking on Wal-Mart here but much the same could be said for many Fortune 500 companies. They make a huge deal out of their charitable works all the while squeezing their own workers to the point of misery. It seems insane—and just kind of mean—to me. If a company has this much money to give away, why don’t they give some of it back to their workers who, in turn, would feed more money into the local economies, work harder and stronger, and make their own charitable contributions?
I’m not anti-business. If the company is struggling, if the cash is not there, then I don’t expect a raise. My employer just emerged from bankruptcy and we all pulled together: taking pay cuts, benefit cuts, and sniffing out radical cost-cutting measures. We have now emerged, so they tell us, a lean, mean, healthy and re-energized company. So why am I not expecting any of our sacrifices back in the immediate or foreseeable future?
I admit I am a man beaten down by life. I don’t claim to have any keen political insight or innovative solutions to the world’s problems. But I think and I wonder. I look at all the money pouring into charities and political campaigns and wonder what would happen if they took that money and just paid their workers better—or even their fair share of taxes? Instead of manipulating the system to avoid community and social responsibility, they embraced it. After all, an old adage claimed that charity began at home.
And good will was good business.