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Americans Agree On Something: They Don’t Like Big Corporations

A new survey finds that a majority of Americans distrusts the Fortune 500, and an overwhelming majority thinks companies prioritize shareholders over workers and customers.

Americans are down on corporations. Almost two-thirds (62%) distrust the Fortune 500, and nearly half (47%) say business behavior is headed in the wrong direction, according to a new poll.

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Just Capital’s latest poll, of 10,000 representative respondents, finds big majorities of Americans–including 85% of Democrats and 72% of Republicans–“believe companies share too little of their success with employees.” More than two-thirds of Americans (69%) think companies see shareholders as their top priority (and of course, they’re right to think that).

Just Capital has been polling American attitudes to big business continually for three years (70,000 people so far). It’s consistently showed that people care most about labor issues, including fair pay, treatment, and safety.

The most important ways corporations should be good, according to different ideologies. [Image: Just Capital]
The survey is a part of an effort by Just Capital, a nonprofit partly funded by financial philanthropist Paul Tudor Jones. In December, it’s launching a live–or nearly live–platform indexing and ranking companies on their commitment to corporate citizenship. By measuring metrics like fair pay and worker treatment, Just Capital hopes to moves the needle toward a fairer form of capitalism.

“Corporate leaders are struggling to win back the trust of the American people, and this survey for the first time gives companies a comprehensive tool to help them align their practices with the values of their consumers and employees,” says Martin Whittaker, Just Capital’s CEO.

The report lays out a roadmap by which corporations can win back the trust of the American public–though, given the soaring stock market, it seems they are doing fine without that trust, at least for now. That includes paying “living wages” (about 11 million workers in retail and associated industries don’t get living wages currently), preventing avoidable hazards in the workplace, enabling better work/life balance, and improving pay transparency.

More positively, the survey found that 85% of Americans are willing to pay more to buy from companies with “just business” practices. And 79% of respondents said they would be willing to work for less money if it meant working for a business with more just practices.

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“If we are to address the country’s most pressing challenges, we have to get the private sector committed to a more just version of capitalism,” Whittaker says. “The restoration of the American dream is entrusted to companies that value the priorities of society, not simply their shareholders.”

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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