Have you considered the idea that rationality is not exclusive to individuals? Corporations, themselves, are equally rational, with the abilities and responsibilities to contribute to social change. I believe that corporations exist to create economic value and contribute to society in a manner that upholds their own tenets. The days of profits-first doctrines and revenue generation activities being a corporation’s sole purpose for existence have passed. The new model suggests that corporations and government should co-create social change.
Earlier this month, CVS Pharmacy announced that it will no longer sell cigarettes and tobacco products effective October 1, 2014. The company’s justification: because it “is the right thing to do.” The impact of such a decision spans far beyond generating press coverage and the economic realities of revenue declines. CVS is taking a proactive stance to prevent medical issues linked to the use of tobacco products. The irony is that pharmacies have traditionally leveraged a business model that embraces reactive medical care. Yet, the message runs much deeper. CVS is contributing to the broader healthcare discourse in this country. CVS is using their power to contribute to social change. In short, CVS is viewing their leadership as a responsibility.
CVS is not alone in its quest to cultivate social change. Last year, Starbucks asked customers to leave their firearms at home, representing a noble attempt to influence the national gun debate. Patagonia took an anti-Black Friday stance, requesting that customers repair old and worn clothing instead of purchasing new items, shedding light on excessive consumerism.
Whether we agree with CVS or any other corporate stance is somewhat irrelevant. We live in a society where corporations have power and influence. Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission supported the right of corporations to contribute to political discourse as a legitimate activity. That being said, CVS, Starbucks, Patagonia, and many others are different. They are conductors of social change. They also happen to have the power to shape change in the direction they choose.
Nevertheless, there is a darker side to corporations wielding such influence. In an environment in which those with the most power make the rules, the American ideology of democracy is called into question. It is not unlike a game of Monopoly wherein the corporations that have more properties, more cash and more partners ultimately control the game. We can hope that the die fall in our favor. For example, those who consume the occasional soda or candy won’t be rooting for CVS to next take aim at American obesity.
In the end, taking heed of the irony of the recent death of the Marlboro Man, I give two healthy cheers to CVS. Their move deserves more than one for bravery. Three cheers you ask? I consider that an applause reserved for a pharmacy industry-wide ban of cigarettes.