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由创始人控制的上市公司挑战公司伦理现象严重

Eleanor Bloxham 2012年05月10日

包括谷歌、沃尔玛在内,美国一些最大的公司都是由少数几个人创立的。但是问题出现时,他们必须对为数众多的股东负责。但是这些公司的创始人们往往通过双重股票结构把持着公司,股东根本没有能力对他们问责。

    我不知道你们怎么样,反正我已然晕头转向了。谷歌(Google)、沃尔玛(Wal-Mart)、新闻集团(News Corp),还有切萨皮克能源(Chesapeake Energy)。我们都知道绝对权力滋生腐败,但这些由创始人控制的上市公司对伦理道德的公然挑战依然令人震惊。

    更糟糕的是,这些公司不仅损害了自身和正在那里工作的人们,也降低了企业界整体的信誉。

    上月底《纽约时报》(New York Times)的调查性报道出炉后,在《财富》(Fortune)杂志2012年全球最受赞赏公司榜单中排名第24位的沃尔玛公司就深陷贿赂丑闻,现任和前任CEO都涉嫌隐瞒真相,董事会和审计委员会的监督职责也备受质疑。据沃尔玛最新的投票委托书显示,沃尔顿家族的创始人控制着约17亿股沃尔玛股票和近50%的投票权。尽管如此,多年来一直关注沃尔玛董事会独立性和监督力度的纽约市养老基金(New York City Pension Fund)仍提议对董事会的5名董事投反对票。沃尔玛没有回复采访要求。

    谷歌初步投票委托书显示,公司创始人在谷歌通过双重股权结构控制着约三分之二的投票权,而且,他们已经制定了计划继续确保这样的控制。

    上周末,《洛杉矶时报》(Los Angeles Times)报道称,谷歌获取私人信息并非像之前声称的那样只是个意外。这家摘得《财富》杂志最受赞赏公司榜眼头衔的公司在2010年的一篇博客中写道:“我们不慎在我们的软件中加入了搜集有效载荷数据样本的代码”

    但据上周五晚些时候谷歌发给美国联邦通信委员会(FCC)的报告显示,这项工作是经过深思熟虑的。报告披露,软件设计工程师将代码和设计文件草案都提交给了项目负责人,后者将文件分享给了谷歌街景团队的所有成员。谷歌安排了一名工程师“复查和调试”代码,多达5位工程师进行了测试,更有一位谷歌高层经理曾经要求从获取的数据中获得信息。

    一位谷歌发言人给我写了一封电子邮件称,这份报告表明谷歌并没有违法。但报告确实列明,谷歌故意妨碍了美国联邦通信委员会的调查,而且“包括加拿大、法国和荷兰在内的几个国家都已确定,谷歌搜集有效载荷数据的做法违反了它们的……法律法规。”

    “我们希望,现在我们可以把这个问题甩在身后,”上文提到的谷歌发言人在电子邮件中这样写道。他们或许真的可以如愿以偿。因为美国的监管机构看起来不够坚决,沃尔玛、新闻集团和切萨皮克的股东们追查的问题已让他们腾不出手脚,没空关注谷歌的新闻。我们只有这么多人手,他们这样告诉过我。

    I don't know about you, but my head is spinning. Google, Wal-Mart, News Corp, Chesapeake Energy. We all know absolute power corrupts, but the apparent level of ethical challenge at these public, founder-controlled companies is mind-boggling.

    Worse, these companies not only do damage to themselves and those that work there, they lower the level of trust in corporations overall.

    Wal-Mart, No. 24 on Fortune's list of World's Most Admired Companies, is knee-deep in a scandal over alleged bribery and a cover-up that implicates both the current and former CEO, and calls into question board and audit committee oversight, following investigative reporting by the New York Times last week. The Walton family founders control approximately 1.7 billion Wal-Mart (WMT) shares and nearly 50% of the voting rights according to the company's latest proxy. Nevertheless, the New York City Pension Fund, which has been concerned with Wal-Mart's board independence and oversight for years, is recommending a no vote on five of the board's members. Wal-Mart did not return a call seeking comments.

    At Google (GOOG), its founders control approximately two-thirds of the voting rights in a dual class share arrangement, according to the company's preliminary proxy, and they have plans to ensure that hold.

    Over the weekend the Los Angeles Times reported that Google's drive-by capture of personal nformation was not as inadvertent as Fortune's second-most admired company, originally made out. "We had mistakenly included code in our software that collected samples of payload data," a 2010 Google blog entry stated.

    But according to the FCC report that Google released late Friday, the work was a result of a "deliberate software design decision." The report shows that the engineer who devised the software submitted draft code and a draft design document to his project leaders, who shared his document with all members of the company's Street View team. Google assigned an engineer to "review and 'debug'" his code, five engineers tested it, and a Google senior manager asked for information from the captured data.

    A Google spokesperson wrote in an email to me that the report shows Google did not break the law. But the report states that Google deliberately impeded the FCC's investigation and that "several countries, including Canada, France and the Netherlands have determined that Google's collection of payload data violated their … laws and regulations."

    "We hope that we can now put this matter behind us," the Google spokesperson wrote me. And perhaps they'll be able to. U.S. regulators appear to be weak-willed, and shareholders chasing issues at Wal-Mart, News Corp., and Chesapeake Energy, among others, have their hands full and haven't focused on Google's news. We have only so much bandwidth, they've told me.

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