Group gives some companies 'X' rating for social responsibility

January 09, 1991|By Newsday

NEW YORK -- The Council on Economic Priorities yesterday named its top-rated and "X-rated" makers of household products, based on its own own controversial yardstick for social responsibility.

In its 1991 ranking of 180 manufacturers, the New York-based research and advocacy group listed Colgate-Palmolive, General Mills, Kellogg and S.C. Johnson & Sons as top-rated.

The dubious distinction of being "X-rated" went to Abbott Labs, American Cyanamid, Castle & Cooke, Fantastic Foods, Nestle, Tillamook Cheese, and USX.

The council has attempted to influence investors since it was founded in 1969, but only in recent years has it armed shoppers with information about a company's record on such issues as the environment and the advancement of women.

"Consumers should reach for the products made by the top-rated companies, and avoid the products made by the X-rated companies," said Alice Tepper Marlin, executive director of the non-profit group.

Ms. Marlin announced the council's latest rankings at a news conference to publicize the 1991 edition of the council's guide, "Shopping for a Better World."

The ratings are based on detailed questionnaires it sends companies or on information the council compiles itself. To be top-rated, a company had to earn the best grade in at least 11 of 12 categories; to be X-rated, a company had to have at least five "bottom" ratings.

The criteria include giving to charity, advancement of women bTC and minority employees, and environmental record in such areas as recycling. If a company or a subsidiary has a contract related to nuclear weapons or nuclear power, it earns one bottom rating.

Companies' reactions varied according to their ranking. Reuben Mark, chief executive officer and chairman of Colgate-Palmolive Co., a top-rated business, called the ratings a "valuable service" which "does seem to guide an increasing number of consumers in their purchasing habits."

Companies given the worst ratings cried foul. USX Corp., for example, said the ratings were so simplistic that the company had not filled out the council's questionnaire. Nestle USA Inc., said the ratings were "unfair" and noted that its multinational parent, not its U.S. subsidiary, had been ranked. The council in its guide concedes the U.S. arm of Nestle has a better record than its parent.

James Rosen, president of Fantastic Foods Inc. in Novato, Calif., called his company's X-rating ridiculous. "We're definitely much more responsible than any other company our size I know of," he said. The company makes food products for vegetarians and has about 30 employees.

Emily Swaab, a project director for the council, defended the council's ratings and noted that one of the reasons Mr. Rosen's company earned its bad rating was a dearth of family benefits, such as a written maternity-leave policy.

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