Can bad companies do good work?

I was at the Top Employers accreditation dinner this week. I like the idea of these accreditation systems and I particularly like the work that Top Employers are doing around global standards. One of the strong arguments for them is that they’re helpful for those companies that may not be consumer brands or well-known outside of their sector. It sends a message that says, “we are a good place to work, even if you don’t know who we are”.

But should we recognise good employment practice, regardless of the goals of the organisation? Is it good enough to just be seen to treat employees well, or should we be questioning organisational purpose?

Is being seen as a good employer often a tactic to compensate for public perceptions of “moral” acceptability?

I’ve written before about the way in which RBS was heralded for their innovative people management practices, how News International promoted their “culture change programme” and I could go on and provide a myriad of company failures.

But at the same time, we also know that there are societal issues that we need to address: obesity, alcohol consumption and binge drinking, the incidence of smoking in developing countries.

When we recognise employers should we consider what those employers do? Or do we just accept that everything is fair game and let the moral judgments be made elsewhere? Where do we draw the line?

On the podium at this particular event (and I don’t intend to single out Top Employers in any way) were McDonalds, KFC, Heineken, JD Weatherspoons, Molson Coors, British American Tobacco and Phillip Morris International. Not to mention The Co-op Group last week described as “ungovernable” by its own CEO.

Should HR and people practice sit in isolation, or if it is integral to a company culture, ethos and purpose. Should we not take that into account too?