Feature Writer
Bernard Simon is a freelance writer who previously spent 17 years as Canada correspondent for the Financial Times. He has also been a regular correspondent for the New York Times, The Economist and US News & World Report, among others.

Heroes and zeros: Covid edition

The pandemic has been an excellent opportunity to test which companies are living up to their Business Roundtable pledge

The COVID-19 pandemic has been an excellent opportunity to test which companies are living up to the U.S. Business Roundtable’s pledge last August to serve not only their owners, but also workers, customers, suppliers and communities. “Each of our stakeholders is essential,” the Roundtable’s 180 members proclaimed then – a sharp break from their previous stance that the interests of shareholders were their “paramount duty.”

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Heroes and zeros: Interface’s Mission Zero vs. Blackstone Group’s sickly suits

Interface is cutting it's carbon footprint, while Blackstone profits off medical debt

Hero: Interface

Ray Anderson set an ambitious target in 1994.

The founder and chief executive of Interface Inc. had just read Paul Hawken’s The Ecology of Commerce, which excoriates business for plundering the earth’s resources but also argues that corporations hold the keys to a more sustainable future.

Moved by Hawken’s indictment, Anderson vowed that Interface, one of the world’s largest makers of carpet tiles and thus a heavy petrochemicals consumer, would shrink its carbon footprint and other environmental costs to zero by 2020.

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Heroes & Zeros: Business Roundtable evolves, while Cargill named worst company on earth

Agri-food giant Cargill slammed for deforestation and child labour links as 181 CEOs vow to do business differently

Zero: Cargill

Sadly, there is no shortage of choice for the title of Worst Company on Earth. A host of sweatshops surely qualify, as do any number of corrupt corporate kleptocracies, mismanaged monopolies, climate-action-obstructing fossil fuel companies, price-gouging pharmaceutical companies, weapons manufacturers…the list goes on.

The Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Mighty Earth recently took a stab at identifying the ultimate bottom-feeder in environmental governance and decided to award the dubious honour to Cargill, the agri-food giant.

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Heroes & zeros: Volkswagen and Vale

Scandal-plagued VW launches ambitious commitment to EVs, while Vale faces fallout from dam collapse

For the past three years in a row, Volkswagen has sold more vehicles than any other carmaker on the planet. Yet that achievement has won it little applause.

The German carmaker’s profits and share price have languished, and the sales numbers have been overshadowed by one of the most damaging scandals in corporate history: accusations that it installed illegal software in its diesel models to circumvent tightening emission rules. VW, whose brands also include Audi and Porsche, has paid billions of dollars in fines and compensation.

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Heroes and zeros: Vanguard’s John Bogle and Postmedia’s Paul Godfrey

Hero: Vanguard founder John Bogle


For years, small investors measured their portfolios’ performance by little more than day-to-day swings in share prices. Far too many entrusted those portfolios to conflicted financial advisors, and relied on friends for hot tips.

Times have changed. Millions of retail investors – though by no means all – have come to appreciate that the dartboard approach invariably produces poorer returns than a basket of reputable stocks held year in and year out. Many now take the time to compare fees charged by mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and to ask questions about financial advisors’ independence, and their fees.

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Heroes & Zeros: Seychelles vs. Facebook

When you lose faith in Facebook for good, you can always look to an island nation for inspiration

Hero:  Seychelles' blue bonds

First, in 2007, came the “green bond,” the debt instrument that has raised hundreds of billions of dollars for projects to combat or adapt to climate change. Now, a decade later, the Indian Ocean island nation of Seychelles has made a splash with the world’s first “blue bond,” aimed at easing environmental pressures on our oceans and marine life.

The proceeds of the 10-year, US$15-million issue will go towards overhauling the Seychelles’ fishing industry, the biggest contributor to the economy after tourism. Eligible projects include the development of aquaculture, training programs, new equipment and promotion of environmentally friendly fishing practices.

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Heroes & zeros: Danby and McKinsey


It’s not easy for Jim Estill to assess whether his unusually generous support for Syrian refugees has helped or hurt his business.

Estill is chief executive of Danby Appliances, a maker of washing machines, dishwashers and microwaves based in Guelph, Ontario. He emerged two years ago as one of the biggest single participants in the Liberal government’s much-publicized drive to offer Syrian refugees a new home in Canada. As of late August, Estill alone had sponsored 61 families, with another six on the way and likely more in the future.

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Heroes & zeros: McDonald’s and Murray Energy

McDonalds moves to reduce its packaging waste, while Murray Energy lobbies for coal-friendly policies.


When it comes to damaging our planet, the fast-food industry has much to answer for. The attractions of cheap burgers and drive-thru coffee are all too often sullied by allegations of poor working conditions, animal cruelty and the cost to the environment of mountains of paper, foam and polystyrene waste.

So McDonald’s deserves a round of applause for its recent pledge to use renewable, recyclable or certified materials for all packaging by 2025, and to put recycling bins in all 37,000 Golden Arch restaurants around the world.

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Heroes & zeros: Loblaw and Rio Tinto

Loblaws moves towards 100 per cent electric trucks, while former Rio Tinto executives are charged with fraud.


When the talk turns to electric vehicles, it's typically about pioneering sedans like the Tesla S, Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf. Away from the spotlight however, much of the action is in commercial trucks.

A growing number of fleet operators are going electric, citing more power, lower maintenance costs and fewer emissions-compliance headaches versus their existing diesel vehicles. Among the latest is Loblaw Companies, Canada's biggest grocery chain, which unveiled plans in early November to switch to an all-electric fleet.

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Heroes & zeros: Kenneth Frazier and Eskom

Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier stands against hate, while South African utility Eskom is mired in scandal.


Kenneth Frazier may have ushered in a new era of boldness in U.S. business leaders’ approach to divisive social and political issues. On August 14, Frazier, a janitor’s son who now heads Merck, the New Jersey-based pharmaceuticals giant, became the first CEO to walk away from President Donald Trump’s business advisory council in protest against the president’s inflammatory reaction to a rally of swastika-waving white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, the previous weekend.

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