Forget American Idol and Dancing With the Stars—here’s the contest you’ve been waiting for: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce 2008 Corporate Citizenship Awards. According to a press release put out by the Chamber, the awards “recognize companies, chambers of commerce, and business associations for making positive contributions to their communities, advancing important economic and social goals, and demonstrating ethical leadership and sound stewardship.”
The Chamber has just announced the finalists for each of the award categories. The winners in most of the categories will be chosen by “a panel of distinguished leaders in the field of corporate citizenship,” including Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter, past winners and the board of directors of the Chamber’s Business Civic Leadership Center.
Let’s focus on the Large Business Award, which is given to companies with annual revenue of more than $5 billion. Although the public is not invited to vote in this category, we can cheer on our favorite contestant—once we figure out which one that should be. Let’s mull that over.
One of the most familiar names among the finalists is Verizon Communications, a telecom behemoth with $93 billion in revenues. Although the company’s traditional phone service business is highly unionized, its Verizon Wireless and Verizon Business units have vehemently opposed organizing drives by their employees.
Another finalist is Bank of America, which is now the parent of Countrywide Financial, the poster child for predatory mortgage lending currently being sued by various states for deceptive practices. B of A itself paid $460 million in 2005 to settle charges related to its marketing of WorldCom securities just before the scandal-ridden company filed for bankruptcy.
Also competing is Siemens USA, the American subsidiary of German industrial engineering giant Siemens AG. The parent company has been embroiled in a major bribery scandal that has resulted in the resignation of various managers, including some who have been convicted of misuse of funds.
Then there’s KPMG, one of the Big Four auditing and tax advisory firms. In 2005 more than a dozen of KPMG’s executives were indicted for promoting fraudulent tax shelters. The firm itself reached a deferred-prosecution agreement with the Justice Department but had to pay $456 million in fines.
The last finalist is known mainly to truck drivers. Pilot Travel Centers operates more than 300 truck stops in 41 states. It’s amazing to learn that this seemingly modest business has annual revenues of more than $13 billion. There’s not much objectionable about Pilot (except perhaps the fast food), but it turns out that Pilot is half-owned by Marathon Oil. In addition to having been identified as a potentially responsible party at ten different toxic waste sites, Marathon was one of a group of oil companies that agreed earlier this year to pay a total of $423 million to settle charges that they contaminated public water supplies with the gasoline additive MTBE.
Decisions, decisions. Should we go with the (alleged) union-buster, predatory lender, bribe-payer, tax cheat or polluter? Perhaps it’s best that the judging is being done by professionals, who are best equipped to appreciate the contestants’ unique qualities.