"A million dollars isn't what it used to be." -- James Joseph, owner of a Century 21 brokerage in Whittier, Calif., to the Los Angeles Times about how 1 of 13 California homes sold for at least $1 million in 2005
Coca-cola (KO) may be giving ground in its battle with college crusaders. The University of Michigan and others have suspended sales of Coke products, citing its unwill-ingness to allow for an outside review of worker conditions at bottling plants in Colombia.
Student activists contend that Coke turned a blind eye as eight bottling employees were killed by right-wing paramilitaries. Coke and its bottlers maintain that's unfair, saying violence against union workers was a byproduct of the country's civil war ("'Killer Coke' or Innocent Abroad?" Jan. 23).
But in a Jan. 19 letter to the University of Michigan's board of regents, Coke revealed that it is setting up a third-party assessment in Colombia. That group, which Coke plans to have in place by the end of March, would include representatives from labor, nongovernmental organizations, "and our most vocal critics," Coke says.
A University of Michigan spokesperson says administrators are reviewing the proposal. Some critics say it would be better for the company to extend a strong human rights policy to more bottlers. A Coke spokeswoman says its six largest bottlers have agreed to its code of business principles and that "we're rolling it out to the other bottlers."
Wanted: "An innovative, out-of-the-box thinker" to "help pioneer a new model of how Wal-Mart works with outside stakeholders, resulting in fundamental changes in how the company does business." That's the description Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) has on its Web site for a new post of "senior director of stakeholder engagement." The world's largest company has struggled to respond to critics of every stripe, from environmentalists to sweatshop activists. It has taken steps to change its behavior by, for example, working with suppliers to reduce packaging waste. "We're trying to centralize our [social responsibility] efforts," says spokeswoman Sarah Clark.
The new position also appears to elevate such efforts to a greater level of responsibility. The hire will report to Wal-Mart's vice-president for corporate strategy and "will play a critical role in helping the company...create a new model of business engagement that uses market-based changes to create societal value," the posting says. Still, it's not clear how much Wal-Mart is willing to tinker with its low-cost, low-price strategy to satisfy critics, says World Monitors CEO Scott Greathead, who advises companies on social responsibility.
Whole Foods Market (WFMI), mindful of its environmental rep, says it will offset energy used in its stores by investing in renewable wind energy credits. But that has raised some dust. Shareholder Mark Orlowski points out that the credits -- which subsidize wind and are traded for conventional power -- average 2 cents to 3 cents per kilowatt hour more. By buying 458,000 megawatt hours, the grocer presumably got a steep discount. Still, even with a discount, Orlowski estimates that Whole Foods could shell out up to $10 million extra. Whole Foods won't comment. Craig Hanson, a senior associate at World Resources Institute who worked on the deal, says that figure is way too high. But Orlowski says Whole Foods should be more concerned about turning off lights and other conservation efforts.
WHY READ IT
In many countries, including China, blogging can lead to jail time. Read this to gather advice -- in English, Chinese, Arabic, or Farsi -- on how to blog while being truly anonymous.
From a guide to anonymous blogging in Malaysia: "Another social option is to use Adopt a Blog, www.adoptablog.org. Designed primarily for blocked blogs in China, you can contact this service to request that someone outside your country host a blog on their server. The server hosting your blog is unlikely to be blocked...."
When the Tokyo Stock Exchange tanked and was forced to shut down early on Jan. 18, some of the strain came from investors placing sell orders with the flick of a cell-phone button. That reflects the latest twist in Japan's love affair with technology. In November the value of trades made via mobile phones by brokers Matsui Securities, E*Trade Securities (ET), and Monex -- three of Japan's major online brokers -- hit 1 trillion yen ($8.7 billion) for the first time, up 90% over the year before.
Wireless trading reflects the way Japan's mobile-phone industry evolved. In the 1990s, pricey per-minute charges over regular phone lines discouraged Internet access at home. Many found it cheaper to sign up for Web-enabled cell phones instead. Now brokerages are rushing to beef up cell services. At Kabu.com, account holders can check stock prices, build charts, and read prospectuses on phones. And in February, E*Trade plans a lottery for customers who want to buy into IPOs.
Suddenly the business scandals of the past few years make a lot more sense. Research by the Center for Academic Integrity, a think tank affiliated with the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University, shows that undergraduate business students do more cheating than just about anyone else. The survey of nearly 50,000 students at 69 schools found that 26% of business majors admitted to serious cheating on exams, and 54% admitted to cheating on written assignments, which includes plagiarism and poaching a friend's homework.
Bad as that is, business students didn't rank as the worst cheaters. That distinction belonged (ahem) to journalism majors, 27% of whom said they cribbed answers. The most honest group? Those in the sciences, where 19% reported cheating on tests. The results come from surveys conducted over the past three years by Donald McCabe, a management professor at Rutgers Business School and founder of CAI.
McCabe says cheating has increased since he began doing surveys 15 years ago. He partly blames technology for making cheating easier. Papers can be downloaded off the Internet, and answers text-messaged to friends. But he adds that a "disturbing" number of students use recent corporate and political scandals to justify their behavior.