I wasn’t surprised when “Mr. Robot,” one of my favorite American TV shows, recently won the Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series Drama. It features the story of a vigilante computer hacker, Elliot Alderson, who is trying to bring down a large multinational conglomerate, E Corp. Throughout the show, E Corp is referred to as “Evil Corp” because the story is told from Elliot’s perspective.
There are many reasons why he referred to this corporation as “evil.” The company owns around 70 percent of the global consumer credit industry. In the ‘90s, the corporation was involved in a gas leak scandal which led to the deaths of more than 20 employees, including Elliot’s father. Evil Corp survived this scandal.
Sam Esmail, the show’s creator, admitted in an interview that the logo of Evil Corp in the show was actually derived from a real-life company, Enron. In the early 2000s, the company was subject to a huge corporate scandal and accounting fraud which led to bankruptcy. This also led to the loss of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in investments.
While “Mr. Robot” is fiction, I couldn’t help but ask this question: Are corporations evil? It has been widely taught in business schools and textbooks that the goal of firms is to “maximize shareholder value.” It is in the nature of businesses to focus their attention on making profits. Both reality and fiction show that some would go to extremes in order to meet this goal, sometimes through deception and malpractices. This is the reason why some businesses are depicted as “evil.”
Are corporations really evil or have they reformed? Over the past years, there has been a paradigm shift on how businesses operate. In fact, leaders around the world adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development during the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit in September 2015. The goal is to encourage collective effort among different parties to “eradicate poverty and to allow humans, of today and the future, to live with dignity in a peaceful and just world that effectively utilizes natural resources.” Realizing their big role in achieving this goal, many businesses are now committed not just to making profits, but also to their responsibilities to the environment and society.
I recently had the opportunity to co-write a research paper with DLSU professor Dr. Ginny Santiago about corporate sustainability and sustainability reporting in the Philippines.
Based on our research, which was funded by the CHED—Philippine Higher Education Research Network (PHERNet), the number of Philippine firms practicing corporate sustainability and sustainability reporting has been increasing since 2004. As of 2015, almost 30 percent of publicly listed firms are into corporate sustainability. More importantly, we found out that the sustainability practices of firms (i.e., those with sustainability reporting) have a positive significant effect on their profitability. Our study provides some evidence that giving back to society, addressing environmental problems, and contributing to sustainable development do not hinder the financial growth of firms. In fact, by reporting their corporate sustainability practices, companies create a positive signal to investors.
Are corporations evil? Each one will have his or her opinion on this subject. However, the more important thing to consider is how we can individually contribute to making this world a better place. I hope that more and more corporations will strive to become a different kind of E Corp.
“Effective Corp” or “Environment-friendly Corp.” To end, let me quote an advertisement in the show, “Together we can change the world, with E Corp”.
Mr. Umali earned his Master of Science in Financial Engineering (MSFE) degree from the Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University. He is currently teaching under the Financial Management Department. He welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.