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Should You Choose a Company Based on How it Protects its Employees and Customers?

When we consumers shop, we choose a company's service or products based on many factors, including cost or quality.  In recent years, many of us have also taken politics into account, declining to buy from companies that don't abide by child labor laws, that are not environmentally conscientious or that invest in anti-democratic regimes overseas with repugnant policies like apartheid or genocide.  But this article by Mark Hamblett, "Judge: Evidence Shows Government Influenced KPMG's Defense Fees Policy," got me to thinking whether, as lawyers, we should choose companies based on the vigor with which they protect the rights of their customers or employees.

In his article, Hamblett reports on a hearing held by Judge Lewis Kaplan, SDNY, on whether a U.S. Attorney improperly coerced KPMG to cut off legal fees for employees and partners who refused to cooperate with an investigation into allegedly illegal tax shelters.  The U.S. Attorney's office has insisted that KPMG chose to cut off payment of legal fees on its own, without pressure from the government, but the Judge apparently did not buy that explanation.  Defense attorneys insist that the government did engage in heavy-handed efforts, including threats to charge the entire company if KPMG continued to pay for its employees' legal defense.  Ultimately, KPMG compromised, agreeing to limit reimbursement of fees to $400,000.

The KPMG case is only one in a recent series where a corporation has had to choose between standing strong against the government on behalf of clients or customers or capitulating.   Another group of companies faced with a similar dilemma is a huge news story this week concerning the federal government's tracking of millions of phone calls.  Phone companies like AT&T, Verizon Communications and BellSouth readily complied with the government mandate, while only Quest challenged the NSA request.  And in a similar vein, just a few months ago, Google was lauded for opposing government requests to turn over its records regarding user searches to assist with enforcement of federal child pornography legislation.

As part of their marketing or ad campaigns, virtually every company will tell you that they put customers first.  If that's the case, then I say let them put their money where their mouth is.  When the government comes knocking, will your phone company ensure that your rights are protected or will it cave?  Will your accounting firm protect those employees who handle your transactions or will it sell them down the river?   Companies can say they care about customers all they want, but it's all a bunch of empty words if they don't take a stand for their customers when it really matters.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on May 12, 2006 at 05:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

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