On the Economist website several years ago there was an online debate about Gross Domestic Product as an appropriate measure of human welfare. The essence of the argument against GDP as an indicator was that living standards should include a broader measure of the human condition. The debate is, in a macro way, analogous to the discussion of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and the “ethical company”. To what extent do businesses have an impact beyond their purely economic role of providing goods and services in the marketplace? And to what extent should they address that impact in conducting business?
Let me first say that I am uncomfortable with the term “ethical company.” People who use it seem to imply that a company is “good” as opposed to an ordinary company. If only life were that simple. Ethical questions, it seems to me, aren’t about good and evil – two words that can take…
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Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten has grabbed headlines in recent months for its big acquisitions ($900 million for messaging platform Viber) and investments ($100 million in Pinterest). Now it’s making news for a different reason: This week, British environmental group the Environmental Investigation Agency, along with the Humane Society International, published a report (PDF) describing Rakuten as “the world’s largest online trader in elephant ivory and whale products.”
The group found thousands of listings and ads for whale meat and ivory on Rakuten Ichiba, the company’s Japanese e-commerce site, which launched in 1997 and is now the largest online marketplace in Japan.
Rakuten has been pushing hard to expand its presence and business holdings around the world. In addition to the Pinterest stake and Viber acquisition, the company owns Buy.com, Play.com, ebook company Kobo and streaming video service Wuaki.tv.
In a statement on the company’s website…
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“EA is not an evil empire. They’re a company that have done a great deal for this industry. [But] when corporates buy companies, several things change.”
“When EA bought Bullfrog, they just wanted to make it nicer. They moved us to a nice office, where we couldn’t shoot each other [with BB guns] in the corridors,” Molyneux said. “We had an HR department because that was a nice proper professional thing to do. And that changes the flavor of the company.”
“When any company is acquired, it’s gonna change the company,” Molyneux added. “Sometimes, that change can possibly make the company better. Lots of times it can make it worse.”