Can businesses be held at high moral standards beyond simply what the law provides?

November 24, 2020

John D. Rockefeller would be the wealthiest man in America if he was alive today. Monopolizing the oil industry in the 20th century was his forte, building an outstanding 418 million dollar net worth with current inflation. That number may be perceived as virtually useless for a student of the 21st century, but for any American owner of a gas powered vehicle, John D. Rockefeller is widely pertinent. In a nation founded on capitalism, companies produce a good desired by the people and in turn make a profit, a task Mr. Rockefeller did astoundingly well. This cycle of action and reaction is incredibly effective for business practice, but often results in extreme immorality as a means to achieve the lowest profit margin. Rockefeller most likely did not consider the lasting effects of his oil industry, as today 75 percent of carbon monoxide pollution is produced from gas powered vehicles. A broad question can then be posed: will these capitalist businesses ever find motivation to be held to a higher moral standard beyond simply what the law provides? Although companies will continue to pursue their most effective (yet immoral) methods of profit, I believe there can be no discounting the effect that individual want has in the determination of capitalism, ultimately producing moral effects beyond the bounds of legality.

Before considering the methodology that could provide capitalism with a higher sense of morality, the motivating factors of business must be considered. These binding theories of practicing a business within a capitalist society are as follows: earn a profit and do so under good practice of the law. From a purely theoretical perspective, these two factors are necessary for a business competing in a market. While these two factors most generally define the profitable practice of a business, they also are considered to be the moral requirements for practice. Without the functioning of a governing body, businesses would still produce at a profit level suited for the average consumer, but their methods would most likely be highly immoral, deductively producing a world that could not survive. However, a quick look at the functioning of government proves its primary focus is not to be the arbiter in ethical disputes surrounding business. More importantly, the government is not intended to be the foundation upon which ethics rely. This job is placed within the hands of those who give these corporations and the government great power.

This gift of individual power is one that most would either deny from complacency or not believe due to a feeling of inadequacy. This individual pessimism is highly dangerous, allowing capitalism to produce evil beyond measure. This pessimism must simply be viewed from a different perspective, one that allows the individual to understand that capitalism does not control them, but rather they do. A prominent example of this activism exists purely through the efforts of Gonzaga’s founders: the Jesuits. For nearly fifteen years, the Jesuits have invested in highly immoral corporations just enough to have a say in the stakeholders meetings. This role has been a slow process, allowing the Jesuits to be a thorn in the sides of these multi-billion dollar companies, holding them to a higher standard of morality. Hilton Corporation owns Hampton Inn, a subsidiary that has housed immigrant children in the Southwest, essentially serving as a jail system for these young children. The Jesuits have poked at this issue, going to court in support of these innocent children. This act of empowerment goes relatively unnoticed, but is performing an action that most people would consider highly honorable. However, it does not need to take thousands of dollars to serve as a thorn in the sides of these corporations. As a

consumer of products that are sourced immorally, the power to choose which corporations should be supported in their efforts of racial and environmental justice is entirely in our hands. By choosing to purchase products that are produced locally or decide to bike to a meeting versus drive, people notice. By actively choosing every day to be the one person who consciously chooses morality, you can produce change.

Mr. Rockefeller may go down as the untouchable oil magnate who became the wealthiest man in American history. Capitalism, however, is not an untouchable concept. By approaching the products we purchase and people we choose to support sensibly, capitalism does not rely solely upon two basic principles of function, it adds each individual into the mix. As humans venture into the future, it becomes more clear that our decision to be passionate about our fellow humans and the planet as a whole is critical for determining the values that our future communities are built on.