Last week, I praised Exxon’s CEO for standing up to climate change activists and defending his company’s moral right to produce oil—a source of energy on which our survival and wellbeing depends. Today, I’ll comment on an opposite story: unprincipled—but unfortunately, not rare—appeasement of anti-oil sands activists by Canada’s iconic coffee shop chain Tim Hortons (now owned by Burger King).

The media has covered the story, so here is just a brief recap. Tims had an advertising contract with Enbridge, an oil pipeline company that transports crude oil from the Alberta oil sands. TV screens at Tims locations across Alberta were displaying ads for Enbridge. A U.S.-funded group ForestEthics launched a coordinated social media attack on Tims for doing business with Enbridge—and Tims caved in, canceling its contract with Enbridge and pulling the ads. Yet, as the Rebel.media reports, Tim Hortons happily operates in oil-producing OPEC dictatorships, such as Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia, whose oil is presumably “clean” while the oil sands oil presumably is not.

Such conduct displays, if not a complete lack of understanding how important acting on moral principle is to business success, moral cowardice. Although the latter is worse in my view, there is no excuse for either.

Although I can only speculate as to the motives of Tims’ leaders for appeasing their attackers, I am guessing that they were a combination of not understanding the importance of moral principles (perhaps due to evasion), and consequently, moral cowardice. If a person understands how critically important adhering to moral principles is to one’s (and a company’s) survival and flourishing, he is much less likely to compromise principles and appease any and all critics that challenge them. As I have explained in other posts, acting on moral principle is the only way we, as fallible humans without automatic knowledge of the right goals and the means to achieve them, can reach our values such as a successful career or business.

There is no excuse for not understanding the importance of moral principles. It is true that today’s culture is dominated by the wrong, anti-life moral ideal of self-sacrifice—that we should always put others’ interests ahead of our own. It is also true that the moral code of self-sacrifice is incompatible not only with life and happiness but with business, whose goal is to pursue self-interest—profits—through the production and trade of goods and services. And it is also true that many businesspeople recognize the destructiveness of self-sacrifice to themselves and also to their “beneficiaries” who would soon run out of “benefits” when the sacrificers have been milked dry. Finally, it is also true that many businesspeople, failing to see an alternative to the moral code of altruism that tells them to sacrifice their self-interest for others (for example, by hypocritically refusing to do business with pipeline companies), often resort to pragmatic appeasement of anyone who claims moral superiority (such as anti-oil sands activists).

Yet, there is no excuse for not grasping the importance of valid moral principles and of upholding rather than compromising them. The knowledge of such moral principles was discovered by Ayn Rand. This knowledge has been communicated and published by her and by many others (including by myself in my book and in this blog, and Peter Schwartz’ brilliant new book, In Defense of Selfishness). Yes, the education system, including business schools, can be blamed partially for not teaching students to think for themselves and for inculcating the destructive alleged virtue of self-sacrifice. But barring cognitive impairment, every person is capable of discovering the proper moral principles for guiding their self-interest, their survival and wellbeing (which, of course, does not involve violating the rights of others). Every person is also responsible for applying the moral principles that help in achieving their values.

This is the difference between Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson and President of Tim Hortons Canada David Clanachan. Rex Tillerson’s conduct indicates that he gets that adhering to valid moral principles, such as rationality, integrity, and independence, is the only way we can achieve our values in any context, including business.

When you know you have discovered the right principles, you don’t compromise them when attacked but stand up and defend yourself. Compromise leads to further attacks and loss of business from those whose values your appeasement harms (such as the thousands of workers in the Canadian oil and related industries). The latter has the powerful effect of silencing or subduing the critics—as happened at Exxon’s annual meeting, facilitating achievement of your values, including the production and trade of oil and coffee beverages for profit.

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Jaana Woiceshyn teaches business ethics and competitive strategy at the Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary, Canada.She has lectured and conducted seminars on business ethics to undergraduate, MBA and Executive MBA students, and to various corporate audiences for over 20 years both in Canada and abroad.Before earning her Ph.D. from the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, she helped turn around a small business in Finland and worked for a consulting firm in Canada.Jaana’s research on technological change and innovation, value creation by business, executive decision-making, and business ethics has been published in various academic and professional journals and books. “How to Be Profitable and Moral” is her first solo-authored book.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Note that Burger King is controlled by 3G Capital, which is a Brazilian company.

    Note that Warren Buffet helped finance its takeover of Tim Horton’s and was involved with 3G’s purchase of the Heinz food company which merged with Kraft food company. He owns a large proportion of BNSF railway which transports oil, and has investments in energy – odd that he’d allow attacks on petroleum.

    Brazilians are also investing in meat production companies in the US and Canada, including managing the producer-owned one in Alberta that had a serious quality problem in the past few years (XL Foods), via the JBS USA subsidiary of food processor JBS SA.

    While countries from elsewhere often invest in North America, and Brazil has food production expertise, I note that Brazilian politics is somewhat unstable and Brazil has had difficulty attracting partners from outside Brazil to help develop its huge oil reserves deep offshore. This Tim Horton’s fiasco won’t help.

  2. Appeasement seems too nice a word. Corporate Cowards!

    Ron Stuckert

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    From: How to be Profitable and Moral: A Rational Egoist Approach to Business [mailto:comment-reply@wordpress.com] Sent: Saturday, June 06, 2015 4:54 PM To: rdsgroup@telus.net Subject: [New post] And the award for corporate appeasement goes to: Tim Hortons

    jwoiceshyn posted: “Last week, I praised Exxon’s CEO for standing up to climate change activists and defending his company’s moral right to produce oil-a source of energy on which our survival and wellbeing depends. Today, I’ll comment on an opposite story: unprincipled-but “

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