This week in ethics and the madness of retail

Retail is a hard enough business without muddying the waters with all sorts of activities that have nothing to do with selling stuff shoppers want and need. To recap, Target gave some money to a homophobic politician who a lot of people thought was a jerk, which created an uprising in the gay and lesbian community and resulted in the company adopting a new policy to govern the political contribution process. That wasn’t good enough for Lady Gaga who backed out of an exclusive arrangement with Target and in the process will probably sell even more albums by endearing herself further to her most loyal fans. Then this past week comes news that Target was recognized by an organization called the Ethisphere Institute as one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies.

According to Target, the distinction is the latest in a wave of favorable recognition by respected publications and organizations. Take that Lady Gaga. Target was ranked 22nd on Fortunes list of Most Admired Companies, made Diversity Inc.’s list of Top 50 companies for Diversity and was number 26 on Corporate Responsibility’s list of 100 Best Corporate Citizens.

“Businesses thrive in strong, diverse communities, and Target’s longstanding record of community engagement and corporate social responsibility is a source of pride for our team and a hallmark of our brand,” said Gregg Steinhafel, chairman, president and CEO of Target. “We are honored to be recognized for our commitments to responsible corporate citizenship and to fostering an inclusive culture.”

Not to take anything away from Target, but ethics are in the eye of the beholder and most customers could care less. They expect more, want to pay less and then get on with their lives minus the drama of political donations, ethics awards and the goings on with Gaga.

And besides, the integrity of lists that seek to rank businesses tend to be suspect as they are prone to bias and financial motivations. Most are highly subjective and the sponsoring organizations have their own business objectives in mind when compiling the lists.

The only list that should matter to Target is the one that ranks companies on the effectiveness of their business model and ability to produce growth that creates opportunities for employees, affordable and quality products for customers sourced in a responsible manner, tax revenues for the communities and value for shareholders.

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