Liberals Should Support Whole Foods' Brand of Corporate Social Responsibility


In a recent post on PolicyMic, Mariellen Jewers includes Whole Foods on her list of "corporate villains" that consumers should avoid. Her misrepresentations of Whole Foods may mistakenly stray liberals away from a company that upholds the values that they care about. Liberals should support Whole Foods because it practices corporate social responsibility, which benefits society, the economy, and the environment.  

Jewers calls John Mackey, founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market, "an unabashed libertarian." First, I challenge her assumption that being a libertarian is bad. Libertarians are interested in promoting a free society that values the rights of the individual. Libertarianism is not only moral, it results in good outcomes; history shows that societies that have more economic freedom are more prosperous. In addition, libertarians and liberals have the same opinion on many issues, such as defense spending. If liberals demonize libertarians, then they needlessly hurt their relationship with a potential political ally. 

Jewers also has some fundamental misunderstandings about the company. For instance, she asserts that money spent at Whole Foods will go straight to Mackey's pocket. This is not true, since Mackey doesn't get much of a salary. Beginning in 2006, he cut his salary to $1 a year. In addition, he donates his stock portfolio to charity, flies in coach, pays $100,000 annually to a fund that benefits Whole Foods employees, and criticizes excessive executive compensation. In a letter to his staff, Mackey explained, "I am now 53 years old and I have reached a place in my life where I no longer want to work for money, but simply for the joy of the work itself and to better answer the call to service that I feel so clearly in my own heart."  

That doesn't sound like a "corporate villain" to me.

Another false assumption is that Whole Foods is "anti-minimum wage" and a bad place to work. In reality, the company has better wages and working conditions than its competitors. The company's starting wage is $10 an hour — much higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25. Whole Foods employees also are provided free health insurance and profit sharing. In fact, Whole Foods makes employee empowerment a priority. Fortune Magazine consistently lists Whole Foods as one of the "100 Best Companies to Work For." Individual stores -- not the corporate office -- decide what items are stocked and what goes on sale based on local tastes and goods. 

Whole Foods honors social responsibility in many other ways too, in ways that liberals should get behind. It buys high-quality food products, supports sustainable production practices, and donates 5% of its profits to charity. 

Consumers are free to choose where they shop, but they should form their opinions on facts, not misinformation.

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