Advertisement
Smart Buying

Should You Play Politics With Your Purchases?

It's often difficult to pierce the public relations veil of a giant corporation to learn how it's really conducting its affairs.

Q. I have a friend who refuses to patronize companies whose business practices she opposes or whose owners take political stands she dislikes. I think this is a futile standard because it’s impossible to know everything you need to know to make such decisions. I just shop for good products at a fair price from whoever makes them. She thinks I lack principles. Your thoughts, please.

I respect your friend’s wanting to further her personal values through her patronage (or non-patronage) of businesses. But I agree with you that she has to accept a lot of uncertainty in the pursuit of her goal.

Advertisement - Article continues below

In a small town, perhaps it’s possible to know that a local business has a reputation for chiseling its suppliers, overbilling its customers or treating its employees poorly. You can easily avoid doing business with that firm.

But in today’s global marketplace, it’s often difficult to pierce the public relations veil of a giant corporation -- especially a foreign-based firm -- to learn how it’s really conducting its affairs. There are instances of companies getting caught in egregious conduct after being named to lists of “most admired companies” or “best companies to work for.”

Besides, people often don’t agree on what constitutes unethical conduct. Do you give a company demerits for outsourcing previously domestic production? Or reducing its container sizes so it can charge the same price for a smaller quantity of its product? What about using an obscure accounting strategy to wipe out its tax bill? Or telling workers to pay a larger share of their health care costs? Some people view these as acceptable business practices; others don’t.

And how much can we really know about the political actions of owners of closely held companies? There are a few owner CEOs who have taken highly public positions on controversial issues, exposing their companies to boycott by customers who disagree. But most owners keep their heads down, and your friend would have difficulty learning their positions on anything. This is one argument you probably won’t settle.

Have a money-and-ethics question you’d like answered in this column? Write to editor in chief Knight Kiplinger at ethics@kiplinger.com.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Most Popular

Turning 60 in 2020? Expect Lower Social Security Benefits
Coronavirus and Your Money

Turning 60 in 2020? Expect Lower Social Security Benefits

When you file for Social Security, the amount you receive may be lower.
July 30, 2020
These 2 Words Could Send Your Retirement Money to the Wrong Beneficiary
estate planning

These 2 Words Could Send Your Retirement Money to the Wrong Beneficiary

"Per stirpes" vs. "per capita." Making the wrong choice could cause an estate planning disaster.
July 30, 2020
Second Stimulus Check Update: HEALS Act vs. CARES Act
taxes

Second Stimulus Check Update: HEALS Act vs. CARES Act

When compared to first-round payments, the new Republican stimulus check proposal expands and protects payments for some people, but it shuts the door…
July 29, 2020

Recommended

Tax-Free Weekend Dates, States and Savings for Back-to-School Shopping
Tax Breaks

Tax-Free Weekend Dates, States and Savings for Back-to-School Shopping

Sales tax holidays are a great way to save money on clothes, shoes, backpacks, school supplies, and other back-to-school necessities.
July 30, 2020
The Finances of Homeschooling Your Kids: What It Costs, Tax Breaks, More
spending

The Finances of Homeschooling Your Kids: What It Costs, Tax Breaks, More

If you're contemplating homeschooling for the 2020-2021 school year and beyond, consider these 10 things -- from surprising homeschooling costs to pot…
July 30, 2020
Good News: COVID-19’s Social Distancing Seems to Cure FOMO
spending

Good News: COVID-19’s Social Distancing Seems to Cure FOMO

Fear of missing out can put you in debt, but social distancing means no one’s missing out on anything these days. Financially, that’s great news, espe…
July 29, 2020
10 Good Reasons to Cancel Amazon Prime
Budgeting

10 Good Reasons to Cancel Amazon Prime

You probably aren't using most of the perks tucked into that $119 annual fee -- which you don't need to pay to get the free Amazon shipping you crave.
July 19, 2020