As a Jesuit institution, Boston College is founded upon the values of social responsibility, men and women for others, discernment of vocation and educating the whole person: mind, body and spirit. Indeed, these values are very much alive and well here. Orientation, classes and retreats are all places where the world is set aflame.
There is an implicit responsibility that comes with a Jesuit education: making our society, our country and our world a better place. And for the most part, BC should be commended in upholding this responsibility. The Campus School, the partnership with St. Columbkille Parish, fair trade and sustainability initiatives, paying employees a living wage and on-campus research centers like the Center for Corporate Citizenship are just a few of many examples at BC.
The vast majority of BC’s corporate sponsors are good citizens. But I cannot help but notice that several of BC’s sponsors are not living up to the ideals that the University espouses. That is not to say that these corporate sponsors are not practicing these ideals in all facets of their operations. Indeed most, if not all, have community outreach programs, donate to charities, have a code of ethics and abide by the law.
But what may be legal may not be ethical. And our laws can sometimes enable unethical behavior. Take, for example, one of BC’s corporate sponsors, Gulf. The oil company, like all others, has profited immensely over the past decade or so due to the rampant speculation in the market exponentially raising the price of a barrel of oil. Additionally, despite taking in record profits, oil companies receive billions in tax breaks every year. Not to mention polluting the environment both through drilling and releasing copious greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. All of these activities are not just legal, but are practically encouraged by lax laws and regulations.
The same is true of BC's athletic apparel supplier, Under Armour. Although I will concede that Under Armour is indeed far more socially responsible than most companies, most of their production is based outside of the United States in countries such as Honduras and China, where there are lower labor and environmental standards. While this is legal, it is enabled by free trade agreements that make it cheaper to outsource jobs overseas. In order to compete with its rivals who engage in the practice, Under Armour must do the same.
Another corporate sponsor, Waste Management, has a history of violating the law. Although the company has invested in renewable energy and innovative technologies, it has been accused of anti-trust violations by the government and paid out a $457 million settlement in a 2003 class action lawsuit resulting from accounting improprieties. Closer to BC, in 2011 Waste Management paid $7.5 million to the State of Massachusetts for violating environmental laws at several of its plants.
Labor relations have been an issue for the company as well. During 2007 in Oakland, Waste Management locked out Teamsters union employees for almost a month when contract negotiations reached an impasse, creating sanitary problems in the surrounding communities. The company eventually settled the contract with the union and paid $3 million in rebates to customers to compensate for the service disruptions.
Ever present in our dining halls, Conte Forum and Alumni Stadium, Coca-Cola has been engaged in some unsavory practices. Granted, like most of BC’s corporate sponsors, Coke does partake in charitable causes. They raise $2 million to save polar bears, the central focus of their holiday ad campaign, and take part in an AIDS eradication initiative.
But Coke has used pesticides for their products in India, has been accused of bribing the American Academy for Pediatric Dentistry, operated in both Nazi Germany and South Africa during apartheid, settled for $192.5 million in a racial discrimination class action lawsuit in 2000 and has faced accusations of suppressing unions in a number of countries.
Gulf, Under Armour, Waste Management, and Coca-Cola are just four of the many corporate sponsors of BC. I’m not saying that we should boycott the products of these companies. I go to Gulf sometimes to fill up gas in my car. I wear Under Armour apparel. I drink beverages made by Coca-Cola. My trash gets hauled away by Waste Management. In a consumer society, most of us do not think of how corporations are acting ethically when we buy their products.
I would argue that this is an issue that extends far beyond Boston College, as corporate sponsorships exist all throughout the collegiate level. Effective change will only happen when fair trade is promoted instead of free trade, when the tax loopholes for oil companies are closed and when tougher pollution laws are enacted.
But as a Jesuit institution, Boston College is obligated to hold itself to a higher standard. BC should urge Fenway Sports Group, the organization that handles BC’s sponsorship deals, to associate the University with companies that adhere to its values, rather than with those who do the bare minimum by just merely following the law.Featured image courtesy of bcathletics Instagram.