Which large companies do the best job of paying workers fairly, treating customers well, protecting the environment, and other corporate responsibility factors? In a new list, the nonprofit Just Capital ranked the largest 1,000 American corporations based on a list of 29 issues.
Microsoft topped the list, in part because of the company’s progress on pay equity—women earn as much as male colleagues with the same job level and title—and the environment. The company, which became carbon neutral in 2012, has an internal carbon fee to help it continue to lower its footprint, and it also develops environmental tech through projects like AI for Earth, a $50 million research project using AI and machine learning to tackle challenges like identifying animals on the verge of extinction.
Here are the top 10 companies on the list:
Obviously, even the top companies are far from perfect. (As just one example, Microsoft lags behind others in the tech industry in its pace to adopt renewable energy.) But Just Capital sees the list as one way to incentivize better corporate behavior, and it sees transforming companies as key to progress. “We feel as though if we’re going to address major systemic social and health and economic and environmental challenges, you have to get the private sector and the markets to do more of the heavy lifting,” says Martin Whittaker, CEO of Just Capital.
The nonprofit surveying thousands of Americans about what mattered most to them to identify the issues to focus on, and then gathered detailed data about each company. The top 100 on the list, compared to the full list of the 1,000 largest companies, pay median workers 31% more, employ more than twice as many workers in the U.S., are 32% more likely to have environmental policies, and are four times more likely to analyze gender pay equity. They also make more money, with a 6% higher return on equity. “It’s not ‘either/or,'” Whittaker says. “You don’t either look after your workers or customers or your shareholders. Do this properly, and it’s not a zero-sum game. It’s the opposite.”
Just Capital first began creating the annual list five years ago, and Whittaker says that he has seen a large shift in that time in corporate attitudes about responsibility. One of the latest signals was the recent announcement from the Business Roundtable, a lobbying group of top CEOs, that the purpose of a corporation wasn’t only about making money for shareholders, but also protecting other stakeholders, including employees and the environment. It still remains to be seen how CEOs will act on those ideas, but the nonprofit wants to measure that progress, and sees the announcement as a sign of how business culture is changing.
“That sort of testified how far we’ve come,” Whittaker says. “I just can’t see that happening even three years ago. That’s an important marker, because it’s not to say that the problems been solved, but what it does is legitimize the issue so that now the question is, ‘Okay, great, we’ve embraced a stakeholder model. We can’t make progress on that without measuring performance and understanding what’s actually happening—is this actually driving real outcomes?’ All of that now becomes the question. And that’s obviously what we do.”