Income inequality is tearing apart the social fabric of the U.S., and plenty of people–not unreasonably–blame big corporations. Billionaire Paul Tudor Jones, founder of a hedge fund and the much-lauded Robin Hood Foundation, which works on poverty-related issues in New York City, is worried.
During a talk at this year’s TED Conference, he voiced his concerns about what this gap in wealth will do to the country: “Historically, these kinds of gaps get closed in one of three ways: by revolution, higher taxes, or wars. None are on my bucket list,” he said.
Jones’s fix is Just Capital, a new nonprofit that aims to quantify what it means to be a “just” organization, and then create a performance index for the world’s biggest companies (the top 1,000 by market cap, specifically). In order to figure out what a “just” company looks like, the nonprofit is polling 20,000 people across the country. “We’re asking people what they think when they hear those words,” says Martin Whittaker, the CEO of Just Capital.
After that, Just Capital will do more quantitative polling to see how individual companies stack up, presumably looking at factors like employee benefits and the differences between CEO and employee incomes. The first Just Capital rankings will be released in the spring of 2016, but other polling data may be released piecemeal before that. Starting in September 2015, Just Capital will also release an annual survey on what people think being “just” means for corporations.
In addition to Jones, Just Capital board members include Arianna Huffington, Blake Mycoskie (the founder of Toms), and Deepak Chopra. “The board members fear we’re on the wrong track. There’s this idea of creating a more just capital market,” says Whittaker. “A lot of it is holding up a mirror to America to see if that changes behavior. We want data to drive just corporate performance.”
Ideally, Just Capital would like to work with companies on the list who need guidance and insight into what their shareholders want. The nonprofit might also eventually compare financial performance to rankings on the Just Capital Index. “We’re not building an investment product. We’re providing new information in a new way,” says Whittaker.
Not everyone is thrilled with Jones, or his nonprofit. In a Gawker story on the subject, Hamilton Nolan noted that Jones is a big Republican donor, and that he “… is not even willing to pay higher taxes as a remedy for that inequality. He is only willing to advocate for more ‘corporate social responsibility.’ He is not calling for new regulations on unchecked corporate power. He is simply asking corporations to try to be a little more thoughtful.”
The week before his TED talk, protestors marched to his home, claiming that Jones funds politicians who are trying to stop a minimum wage hike, among other things.
These criticisms aren’t entirely invalid. If the personal behavior of the wealthy doesn’t match up to their public goals of fairness, revolution and wars may still be imminent. But creating a just and fair corporate culture is also a worthy goal. Of course, there is an entire corporate social responsibility industry already dedicated to doing that.
Living in Silicon Valley, I see many big tech companies that offer a sheen of cool but lack the qualities that would truly make them “just,” like a reasonable pay gap between executives and other employees, true gender equality, and enough time off. And these are the kinds of companies that are supposed to have quality corporate cultures. Measuring their progress–and comparing companies against each other–will hopefully be the beginning of self-examination, if nothing else.