Magazine article Newsweek International

Players to Watch in 2006; A Pacesetter, Wal-Mart Has Expanded Health Insurance, Asked for a Raise in the Minimum Wage and Committed to Using Less Energy

Magazine article Newsweek International

Players to Watch in 2006; A Pacesetter, Wal-Mart Has Expanded Health Insurance, Asked for a Raise in the Minimum Wage and Committed to Using Less Energy

Article excerpt

Byline: Jeffrey E. Garten (Garten is the Juan Trippe Professor at the Yale School of Management. He can be contacted at jeffrey.garten@yale.edu.)

Global corporations, as we all know, are important for the return on investment they provide, the jobs they generate, the new technologies they develop, the products they offer. But there is another reason to take an interest in them, too: many are at the cutting edge of some of the biggest public-policy issues of our times. Here are several with the potential to make a big impact on society in the coming year.

Start with General Electric. Last May, Jeff Immelt, its chairman and CEO, announced an "Ecoimagination" project that cuts across the conglomerate's 11 businesses--from aircraft engines to medical imaging. Immelt promised to invest billions to develop and deploy technologies that would protect the environment, promote energy efficiency, lower emissions, reduce the use of fossil fuels and increase the supply of usable water, creating specific targets and goals so the public can measure GE's progress. Immelt made it unabashedly clear that he sees an opportunity for substantial profits. As leader of one of America's most impressive companies--a giant that generates more than $150 billion of annual revenue and employs some 320,000 people--Immelt will surely draw followers. His move could even prod Washington to set higher environmental standards for the entire corporate sector.

A second case is Google--the world's largest Internet search firm. The company's stated mission is "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." To achieve that aim, Google has assembled the technology to track the information requests of every individual who uses the site, and to store that data forever. It doesn't take much imagination to see how such authority could be seriously abused to monitor private lives, from political leanings to dating habits. In the United States, at least, the federal government can demand such information under emergency conditions. As privacy advocates square off against the implication of Google's technologies, 2006 could be a watershed year in the evolution of privacy protection.

In 2005 both McDonald's and Pfizer broke new ground in disclosing the inner workings of their businesses. Earlier this year McDonald's opened the kitchens of its restaurants in 30 European countries so its customers could view sanitary and working conditions, as well as see what ingredients were being used in the food. Pfizer and other pharmaceutical companies began to voluntarily post the results of their clinical drug trials on a U. …

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