Time to Substitute Corporate Accountability for ESG

Amazon Starbucks Supreme Court

            Pearl River      With the Supreme Court’s decision to trash affirmative action programs in colleges and universities, conservatives of all stripes believe it’s on now.  In their gun sights are minority hiring programs and incentives where they might exist.    In the conservative assault against affirmative action, Comcast settled a case accusing it of illegally favoring minority-owned small-business customers with grants and marketing advice. Amazon has been sued in Texas over a program offering an extra $10,000 to Black- or Latino-owned delivery-service contractors. Starbucks’s directors and executives are being sued by a shareholder, arguing they violated their duty to investors by supporting diversity policies.  Red state attorneys general have attacked banks and investment programs that won’t fund oil and coal expansion and have now broadened the attack to go after so-called ESG programs that score efforts to protect environmental, social, and governance performance.

Needless to say, corporations are backpedaling.  Investors, never to be confused with progressives anyway, are rebelling.  Not long ago, the Journal reported

An investor-driven climate change push at some of the world’s largest oil companies has stalled out…ExxonMobil and Chevron shareholders struck down a raft of proposals urging the companies to cut greenhouse-gas emissions derived from fuel consumption, put out new reports on climate benchmarks and disclose certain oil-spill risks, among other initiatives.

No one would accuse either company of being in the vanguard of climate change, although both have claimed at different times to be true believes in ESG efforts.

How should we deal with all of this?  Social Policy columnist and corporate researcher par excellence Phil Mattera in a recent Dirt Digger post asks the right question:  Is ESG Worth Defending?  He correctly labels much of it as little more than an exercise in corporate public relations, all sizzle, no steak.  I’ve always had my doubts.  ESG seems the corporate equivalent of the chaos and mishmash progressives have made of fair trade.  There are no common standards.  Labor violations are regularly omitted.  Some are unclear whether defense industry companies can be included.  Corporate screens on investments are like porch screens on the Gulf Coast.  They look good, but you still better put on repellant if you’re going to sit out there for long.

Phil doesn’t argue that they are worthless.  Maybe they are better than nothing?  He argues that we need to stop talking about ESG, as if it’s a real thing, and talk about corporate accountability, because that is worth fighting for and makes a difference.  Let the right wallow in woke, and let’s hang on them the straight story that they are all still apologizing for corporations in a million ways, from pollution to labor rights to money in politics and more.  We have to pick our fights, and that’s the right one.