Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Are B Corporations The Answer To Corporate Idolatry?

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Chapter 9: Paint Your Environment Part 9

The last few posts have explained how a “numbers first” corporate culture is more likely to lead to corporate idolatry.  There are also corporate cultures that are less likely to contribute to corporate idolatry.  One of them derives from a fundamental way that a corporation is structured.

Remember from Chapter 3 that corporations are established by law?  Under the standard legal framework, company officers and employees have a fiduciary duty to maximize shareholder value, and may actually be prohibited from taking wider social concerns into account when making decisions if shareholder value is negatively impacted.

For example, it is widely perceived that the formerly socially progressive Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Company was forced to sell to Unilever, a large multi-national company because it was in the best interest of shareholders. A close review of this decision debunks the myth that the company was legally required to sell to the highest bidder even though the founders did not want to sell.[i]  But whatever the actual legal status, this perceived fiduciary duty is an argument that can thwart attempt to “do the right thing.”

The Benefit Corporation (B Corporation.) is a new type of corporation designed to get around this issue. According to, “Current corporate law makes it difficult for businesses to take employee, community, and environmental interests into consideration when making decisions.”  The B Corporation provides a legal framework to allow the creation of an organization that has a wider social mission beyond profit alone.  In other words, the founding charter of a B Corporation includes a material benefit to society as one of it’s goals.

According to Andrew Kassoy, one of the leaders of the B Corporation movement, “Increasingly there are businesses that want to create value for all their stakeholders, not just their shareholders.” [ii] So by it’s very nature, a B Corporation, will tend to attract people who care more about than just the bottom line.  This type of environment is much more likely to be friendly to a balanced lifestyle.  For example, Patagonia, a B Corporation, is highly rated on, both overall and for work/life balance.

Will a legal structure solve the problem of corporate idolatry?  Not completely, but a B Corporation could be part of your answer, because it removes an obstacle to people-first values in the workplace.

What do you think?

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[i] Freezing Out Ben & Jerry: Corporate Law and the Sale Of a Social Enterprise Icon By Antony Page & Robert A. Katz. Stanford Social Innovation Review Fall 2012, retrieved January 21, 2013

[ii] Socially Conscious Companies Have a New Yardstick By Hilary Howard. New York Times. Published: November 8, 2012, retrieved January 21, 2013.

Image courtesy of B lab.

Want Better Work-Life Balance? Start With Understanding.

Chapter 3: The Corporation, The Real American Idol Part 4

An important step for achieving work life balance is to understand the nature of the institution you are working for. defines a corporation as follows: An association of individuals, created by law, having a continuous existence independent of its members, and powers and liabilities distinct from those of its membersLets look at the four key ideas in more depth.  Each one has a significant impact on how individuals behave.

Association of individuals:  When a group of people are together, it is natural for a culture to form.  Culture provides the norms of acceptable behavior, and is a huge influence on how we act at work, which can spill over into the rest of our life. I will return to corporate culture later in the chapter.

Created by law: Ultimately, what a corporation can and cannot do is defined by local, state, federal and international law.  How often corporations stay within the law and how often they push is a matter of debate.  A simple example is minimum wage  – depending on where someone is working, his or her minimum pay is a function of local law.  A company may choose to pay more for a variety of reasons, but it isn’t required to.

Continuous existence independent of its members: Would it surprise you to learn that one of the first corporations in the world was a copper mine in Sweden that operated from at least the year 1080 until 1992?  It did me. The business was set up to distinct from its founding members, and it certainly was successful outliving them.  Key implication: a company doesn’t need any particular individual to survive.

Powers and liabilities distinct from members: A corporation can enter contracts, be sued, and in some cases be held criminally liable in a distinct and separate way from its employees or investors.  Many corporations provided limited liability for its investors, meaning that no money beyond the initial investment was at risk.  The structure of corporate ownership has a big impact on the behavior of the people who work there.  We’ll come back to this.

Again as a simple example, I used to get my paycheck directly from a company bank account, and not from an individual’s bank account.  Of course a company cannot issue a check (or do anything else) without an actual person to do the work.  This leads to many circumstances where a person is acting or speaking in the name of the company. Not a problem in and of itself,  until we forget that the company isn’t actually alive…

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Three Aspects Of Corporations That Will Surprise You

The Corporation: The Real American Idol. Chapter 3 Part 1

Is a thunderstorm evil?  You might think it is if you don’t understand how it works.  The noise, the lighting, the destructive power can be frightening and dangerous.  Is a thunderstorm good?  You might think so, given the life-giving rain.  When faced with the unknown, the mind naturally creates a story to explain what is happening.  And when we don’t have all of the information, our imagination fills in the blanks. Of course a thunderstorm is neither good nor evil, it just is.

And so it goes with corporations, they are neither good nor evil.   A corporation can do “good” things like donating money to flood victims, or “bad” things like polluting a river.  But good and bad are labels added by people, and are not drivers of the company decisions.  For example, the oil company Texaco donated money for 63 years to allow radio broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera (a good thing), but the sponsorship started to help repair its reputation that damaged by its support for Nazi Germany (a bad thing)[1].

So what is a corporation?

In the words of Chief Justice Marshall of the United States Supreme court, “a corporation is an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of the law.[2]”  It is striking to me how this definition of the corporation resembles following definition of a pagan idol.

Reverend Carlton Wynne of the Westminster Theological Seminary writes that idols in the Bible have personhood, are thought to have power, and have the ability to both accept sacrifices and bless supplicants[3].  Corporations meet all three of these criteria, except of course that corporations actually do have power.  And as for the third criteria, employees regularly make sacrifices for the company, and receive bonuses, promotions, and recognition as rewards.

Of course the primary definition of idolatry that I gave has to do with the adoption of a relative value system.  Do you think this definition fits corporations as well?

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[1] Corporate Social Strategy: Stakeholder Engagement and Competitive Advantage

By Bryan W. Husted, David Bruce Allen Cambridge University Press (2010)  p 141-142.  Google eBook.

[2] Dartmouth College v. Woodward, Retrieved July 29, 2012

[3]   Is Idolatry the New Sin? By Carlton Wynne Reformation  November 2009. Retrieved most recently July 29, 2012