THE PANDEMIC is throwing up a new set of ethical issues for businesses. The premise of “stakeholder capitalism” is not just that firms should consider the interests of employees and customers, as well as shareholders. It is that, by doing so, everyone gains; shareholders will prosper if workers and customers are treated decently. But the pandemic may put different groups at odds. For example, customers may want companies to insist that all employees are vaccinated, while not wanting the same rule to apply to themselves.
It might seem as if shareholders would want as many employees to return to work as possible, few potential customers to be excluded, and interactions in, say, shops and restaurants to be as free from restrictions as possible. But if a company gets a reputation for being an unsafe place to work, or for customers to visit, the effect on long-term returns could be significant. The perception of fairness is also essential. Woe betide the executive who jumps the queue, as in the case of Mark Machin, a Canadian pension-fund boss who travelled to the United Arab Emirates to get the jab. (He swiftly resigned.)
Companies are not just trading off safety and personal liberty. They risk discriminating against those who have yet to gain access to the vaccine or who, for religious or medical reasons, are unwilling or…