“How many of you have used Uber in the past?” the facilitator asked our class. Most of our hands rose.
“How many of you plan to keep using Uber despite what’s happened this year?” Most hands stayed up.
Uber hit the trifecta of shady business decisions last year - they were exposed for poor treatment of their drivers, a culture of bad leadership and sexual harassment, and paying off hackers to keep users in the dark about the fact that their data had been compromised. No one in the room was thrilled about any of it. All of us had alternatives. But we were still using Uber.
Then came the big question that has stuck with me ever since.
“What would it take for a company like Uber to lose your business?”
That is the question, isn’t it?
All of us have companies that we feel great about buying from. For me, LL Bean and Ben & Jerry’s come to mind. They’re not perfect companies, but they’re solid, reliable places that have integrity.
But if we’re honest, we all also regularly buy from companies that do things we disagree with at a deep level. Sometimes, we don’t have much of a choice. Other times, we do. What then? Do we have any responsibility as consumers? And what responsibility to companies have for the impact of the work that they do?
If drivers are willing to work from Uber under their current arrangement, is that Uber’s fault?
Was it wrong of Amazon to pit cities against each other to get massive tax breaks before opening their new headquarters in a location they probably would have gone to anyways? Are they responsible for their contributions to an increasing cost of living and income inequality in that place?
Are big retailers responsible for slavery in their supply chains if they’re not entirely sure where what they’re buying is coming from? How about us as consumers?
These questions don’t have easy answers, but I think we really need to wrestle with them, not just as consumers, but as business owners ourselves. As we’re building companies, what responsibility do we believe our business has to our broader community? How can we best honor that responsibility in our strategic decisions?
I’d love to hear your thoughts!