Vogel Addresses Business Ethics in Los Angeles Times Piece Titled, “When Do ‘Good’ Firms Go ‘Bad’?”

No energy firm has been criticized as vehemently by environmentalists as Exxon Mobil, which refuses to acknowledge, let alone ameliorate, the risks of global climate change. Yet, in contrast to BP, since the 1979 Exxon Valdez oil spill, Exxon Mobil has had an exemplary record on both workplace safety and pollution control. And unlike Shell, another energy firm applauded for its commitment to "sustainability," its financial reporting has been a model of probity. How then should we rank Exxon Mobil's overall ethical behavior?

Merck has been widely and appropriately applauded for its decision to develop, produce and distribute without charge the drug Mectizan, which prevents river blindness. Since 1987, Merck has distributed more than 250 million doses, and its programs currently reach 40 million patients a year. Yet this same pharmaceutical firm aggressively marketed the anti-pain drug Vioxx, which increased the risks of heart attacks and strokes. In measuring Merck's overall corporate virtue, how should we assess the millions of individuals saved from river blindness against the firm's belated response to the health risks of its highly profitable, bestselling drug?

No energy firm has been criticized as vehemently by environmentalists as Exxon Mobil, which refuses to acknowledge, let alone ameliorate, the risks of global climate change. Yet, in contrast to BP, since the 1979 Exxon Valdez oil spill, Exxon Mobil has had an exemplary record on both workplace safety and pollution control. And unlike Shell, another energy firm applauded for its commitment to "sustainability," its financial reporting has been a model of probity. How then should we rank Exxon Mobil's overall ethical behavior?

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