Will CEO pledge improve the lives and conditions of employees and communities? We will see

Do you remember back in the early days of 2012 when Caterpillar Inc. closed the doors of its plant in London, eliminating 450 good-paying manufacturing jobs.
I remember thinking at the time that this was one of the more brutal and blatant examples of how corporations competing in the age of globalization acted on behalf of shareholders. 
Well, according to a recent pledgesigned by corporate CEOs, the interests of employees, their families and communities may be on the upswing. The Business Roundtable document spells out five commitments, putting employees and communities on equal footing with other priorities, including delivering value to customers, and generating long-term value for shareholders.
Investing in employees “starts with compensating them fairly and providing important benefits. It also includes supporting them through training and education that help develop new skills for a rapidly changing world. We foster diversity and inclusion, dignity and respect,” reads the statement.
“Supporting the communities in which we work” means respecting “the people in our communities and (protecting) the environment by embracing sustainable practices across our businesses.”
Might not sound like a big deal, but if the CEOs are serious, this could represent the most important attitude shift since the early days of globalization and free trade, which some, including this scribe, have always considered a bill of rights for corporations to do what they wanted in pursuit of shareholder value and profit.
It wasn’t always that way. At one time, decades ago, corporations were very much more involved in the lives of their employees, providing a fair wage, employment benefits that included pensions and healthcare coverage, vacation pay, and others. Some still do, far too many don’t or offer a much reduced package of wages and benefits. Defined-benefit pensions, for example, were once the mainstay of a secure and dignified retirement. Now, and for the last 30-40 years, they are disappearing from the private sector, although remaining a presence in the public sector. It’s no coincidence that this timeframe coincides with what has been called the ‘race to the bottom,’ a reference to the pressure on governments and workers to accept lower wages and benefits to keep an employer, usually a manufacturer, in town.
The old employer/employee relationship allowed employees and their families to have a relatively secure middle-class lifestyle, benefiting their communities as the money they made got spent on local goods and services, creating jobs and supporting the tax base along the way. It helped sustain the middle class and upward mobility. Take a look at the landscape now: rising income inequality, a gig economy with no benefits and low wages, lower standards and expectations.
I believe in capitalism, but am not sure that what is going on now can be called classic capitalism, which is the best economic system for creating wealth and opportunity. Rather, I’d suggest we live in an age of corporatism, defined as governance for and of corporations. It was corporations that largely wrote the rules of globalization, mostly excluding labour and environmental standards, or ignoring them if they were included. If those standards had been taken seriously, it might have levelled the playing field somewhat. The new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) is said to have stronger labour and environmental standards, but we will have to see how that plays out.
It should be mentioned that globalization has its proponents, with some reports linking it to a decline of global poverty rates. Some sectors and regions have benefitted, others have not.
We aren’t going back to the age of company towns and cradle-to-grave jobs with a single employer, but a refocusing of corporations on employees, their families and communities can only help battle the economic and social ills of today, and perhaps along the way help people live happier, stress-reduced lives. We will see.

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