We’ve got the Academy Awards, the Emmys and Grammys… but what should we call the award for the most extraordinary performance by a corporate profiteer? How about the “Sleazy,” with winners getting a solid gold sculpture of a middle finger? There were so many worthy contenders, but one corporation exhibited uncommon callousness, so the 2021 Sleazy goes to… Tyson Foods!
The meatpacking giant has regularly run roughshod over workers, farmers, communities and the environment — not to mention the millions of animals it fattens and slaughters. But coronavirus pulled out the worst in Tyson’s corporate ethic. In April 2020, its billionaire chairman, John Tyson, ranted that health officials who were closing-down several of his slaughterhouses that had become hotbeds of contagion were creating another crisis: A national meat shortage!
Our corporate-compassionate, burger-gobbling president at the time decreed that meatpacking plants were crucial to America’s national security and must be kept open at all costs. Trump’s edict required workers to return to their jobs or be fired. Only there was no meat shortage. Not only did Americans have an excess of cheeseburgers, pork chops and chicken nuggets, but Tyson and other giants actually increased their meat exports to China last year. Meanwhile, COVID rampaged through Tyson’s factories. In its Waterloo, Iowa, facility alone, a third of the processing workers — low wage, mostly people of color — were infected. At least six died.
But there’s some good news! Many companies, big and small, in the food economy are blazing a different path through Wall Street’s jungle of greed, demonstrating that money and morality can be compatible. Texas supermarket chain HEB, for example, has drawn an intensely loyal customer base by 1) investing in good wages and benefits for employees, 2) showing up in such emergencies as pandemics, hurricanes, freezes, etc. to give essential supplies and hands-on help, and 3) being an involved and supportive neighbor to the hundreds of unique communities it serves.
Also, Maine Grains is “relocalizing” the business of milling grain by working with local farmers who’d been abandoned by global grain marketers like Ardent and Gold Medal. They’re producing nutrient-rich flours from heritage grains, boosting the local economy in the process. Then there’s Bob’s Red Mill, which also artfully mills its products from diverse, natural grains — and it’s 100 percent employee-owned.
These are part of a rising business alternative to the selfish, profiteering ethic of Fortune 500 titans. Called certified B Corporations, they definitely exist to make a profit, but they are equally focused on having a positive social impact, prioritizing fair wages, environmental protections and healthy communities as core elements of their missions, even making those goals legal requirements of their corporate charter.
Ben & Jerry’s, Amy’s Kitchen, King Arthur Baking and New Belgium Brewing Company are just a few more of some 3,800 other businesses now organized as B Corps. Though not pretending to be perfect, they’re at least striving to be more than money grubbers, instead trying to contribute to the Common Good. For more information on the products and practices of B Corps, go to bcorporation.net.