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Controversial Issues

Position statements on controversial issues and industries.

With input from experts and stakeholders, B Lab’s Standards Advisory Council continually evolves risk standards to effectively evaluate the potential negative impacts of different industries, policies, and practices. We document and share B Lab’s positions on this page in order to provide full transparency about eligibility for B Corp Certification, as well as to further thoughtful and constructive public discourse. 

The absence of a position does not mean that B Lab does not consider an issue controversial. Companies engaged in controversial issues where a formal position has not yet been developed will not be able to proceed with certification until one is created and approved by B lab’s Standards Advisory Council and they are determined to be meeting all relevant requirements. 

Particularly when it comes to industries that are controversial, there is a natural tension between the inclination to exclude these companies from eligibility and the need for leadership with the potential to transform the culture, behavior, and impact of these industries. 

While B Lab and its Standards Advisory Council may determine that an industry as a whole is ineligible for certification, we also recognize that within controversial industries it may be possible for companies to meaningfully manage potentially negative impacts or practices. 

In these circumstances, we must distinguish between good and bad actors by using rigorous standards of verified social and environmental performance, legal accountability, and public transparency. All stakeholders are best served by the existence of credible and transparent standards that facilitate improved decision-making.

Please view relevant PDFs to learn more about the requirements and rationale that went into developing these position statements. 

CONTROVERSIAL ISSUE POSITION STATEMENTS

Forthcoming

  • Gig Economy Business Models 

  • Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (Revision)

  • Offshore Financial Service Providers

  • Prison Industry and Prison Labor (Revision)

Agribusiness Producers in Brazil (2020)

Agribusiness producers that operate within the Brazilian agribusiness industry are exposed to increased environmental and social risks because of their geographic location, especially within areas of high conservation value, such as the Amazon, Cerrado, and Atlantic forest biomes. Agribusiness companies that operate in those regions are required to meet specific requirements regarding deforestation and land conflicts to be eligible for B Corp Certification.  

ENGLISH | FRENCH | ITALIAN | PORTUGUESE | SPANISH

Banking in Switzerland (2019)

Private banking in Switzerland is controversial because of its historic and ongoing lack of transparency that has at times enabled tax avoidance, fraud, or money laundering. In Switzerland, companies involved in private banking are eligible for B Corp Certification if they can demonstrate management practices that effectively screen clients for criminal activities in compliance with local and international regulations.

ENGLISH | FRENCH | ITALIAN | PORTUGUESE | SPANISH

Bottled Water Companies (2021, revised) Bottled water companies are controversial because of issues related to water usage and access, as well as the waste produced by their business model. Bottled water companies are required to meet requirements around sustainable water usage, fair water access, and waste management to be eligible for B Corp Certification.  

ENGLISH | FRENCH | ITALIAN | PORTUGUESE | SPANISH 

Cannabis-Related Products (2019) 

Cannabis and cannabis-related products are subject to controversy because of their historic and evolving legal status, as well as concerns about the potential harm that the products may cause. Companies involved with cannabis products are eligible for B Corp Certification depending on a variety of factors, including their legal status and whether they produce products designed for medical or recreational use.  

ENGLISH | FRENCH | ITALIAN | PORTUGUESE | SPANISH

Casino Industry Companies (2020)

Casinos are controversial due to the potential harms of their business model, problem gambling, and the broader negative impacts on the communities in which they operate. Companies that have a meaningful and strategically connected involvement in the operation of casinos are eligible for B Corp Certification only if they are able to demonstrate that they have met the highest possible set of practices to sufficiently manage potentially negative impact. 

ENGLISH | FRENCH | ITALIAN | PORTUGUESE | SPANISH

Debt Collection Agencies in Emerging Markets (2019) 

Debt collection agencies in emerging markets are controversial because of claims about unethical treatment of borrowers and concerns over accuracy, privacy, and security of borrowers’ data. Companies in the debt collection industry in emerging markets are eligible for B Corp Certification if they proactively manage and demonstrate leadership in this context. 

ENGLISH | FRENCH | ITALIAN | PORTUGUESE | SPANISH

Engineering Consulting Companies with Clients in the Defense Sector (2020)

Companies that provide engineering consulting services to clients in the defense sector are controversial because their services could be misused in ways that may harm others. Companies that derive more than 5% of their annual revenue by providing engineering consulting services to clients in the defense sector are eligible for B Corp Certification as long as their services have low-severity impacts and meet specific requirements to manage their potential harm.

ENGLISH | FRENCH | ITALIAN | PORTUGUESE | SPANISH

For-Profit Higher Education (2015)

For-profit higher education providers are controversial for concerns about their business models, recruiting practices, and educational quality. They are eligible for B Corp Certification only if they meet additional minimum score requirements detailed on the higher education addenda of the B Impact Assessment.

ENGLISH | FRENCH | ITALIAN | PORTUGUESE | SPANISH

Fossil Fuels & Energy Companies (2020)

Fossil fuel and energy companies are disproportionately responsible for greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. Companies involved in the production and sale of fossil fuels, including those that generate or sell energy derived from fossil fuels, are eligible for B Corp Certification if they are not engaged in specific prohibited practices regarding extraction, lobbying, and financial incentives; have successfully transitioned their energy portfolio to be at least 50% carbon free; and have committed to make progress towards transitioning to a fully carbon-free portfolio within specified timeframes. 

ENGLISH | FRENCH | ITALIAN | PORTUGUESE | SPANISH

Human Rights (2017)

In​ ​a 2017 Stanford Social Innovation Review article, the authors​ ​raised​ ​concerns​ ​about​ ​the​ ​value​ ​of​ ​the​ ​​​benefit​ ​corporation​ ​legal​ ​structure​ ​and the​ ​rigor​ ​of​ ​the​ ​B​ ​Corporation​ ​Certification,​ ​particularly​ ​as​ ​it​ ​pertains​ ​to​ ​protecting​ ​and​ ​promoting human​ ​rights.​ ​This response from B Lab outlines our approach to evaluating human rights and negative impacts of companies and encourages dialogue on the topic.  

ENGLISH | FRENCH | ITALIAN | PORTUGUESE | SPANISH

Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (2019) 

The marketing practices of companies involved in the production and sale of breastmilk substitutes are controversial because of the risk that certain marketing practices may create an undue influence on a mother’s choice to breastfeed, which could in turn negatively impact the health of infants. Companies involved in the marketing of breastmilk substitutes are eligible for B Corp Certification if they have made a formal commitment to the WHO Code; outline where they are not compliant with the Code; and, if listed on the Access to Nutrition Index, are meeting minimum score requirements and making progress towards higher requirements over time.

ENGLISH | FRENCH | ITALIAN | PORTUGUESE | SPANISH

Mining Industry (2021) 

While companies involved in the mining industry play an important role in society and our economy by providing essential products, creating jobs in rural communities and stimulating economies across the globe, the mining industry also has several significant risks for negative social and environmental impacts.

ENGLISH | FRENCH | ITALIAN | PORTUGUESE | SPANISH

Orphanage-Based Volunteer Programs (2016)

Short-term volunteer programs in orphanages or childcare settings can pose individual and systemic risks to children in those settings. Volunteer placement companies that place volunteers in orphanages and childcare must have meaningful screening policies and practices in place in order to be eligible for B Corp Certification. 

ENGLISH | FRENCH | ITALIAN | PORTUGUESE | SPANISH

Pharmaceuticals

Several aspects of the pharmaceutical industry’s current business model are controversial due to the potential of decision-making that brings benefit to companies while harming public health. Pharmaceutical companies are eligible for B Corp Certification if they have not, in the past five years, engaged in lobbying or policy that endangers consumer safety; influenced unjustified delay in the introduction of an authorized generic product to the market; or engaged in price gouging of their products. They must also demonstrate outlined best practices.

ENGLISH | FRENCH | ITALIAN | PORTUGUESE | SPANISH

Prison Industry and Labor (2021, revised) 

The prison industry is controversial because of issues regarding mass incarceration and institutionalized oppression in the justice system, as well as challenges with service quality, pricing, and possible exploitation within that context. Companies that operate prisons are not eligible for B Corp Certification globally. Also, a moratorium is in place for companies serving prisons or utilizing prison labor in the United States; however, companies outside of the United States that serve prisons or utilize prison labor may be eligible, as long as they meet specific minimum requirements to manage potential risks.

ENGLISH | FRENCH | ITALIAN | PORTUGUESE | SPANISH

Serving Governments Tied to Human Rights Violations (2020)

Companies that serve governments with ties to human rights violations are controversial due to the potential for their products or services to be misused in ways that either directly perpetuate or are complicit in such violations. Companies are ineligible if there is a substantial risk that their products or services are tied to or complicit in human rights violations, as evaluated by the geographic region where they operate, the nature of their products and services, and the specific government programs served.

ENGLISH | FRENCH | ITALIAN | PORTUGUESE | SPANISH

Tax Strategies & Tax Advisory Services (2020, revised)

Taxes are an essential contribution to a healthy society and companies have an ethical responsibility to pay fair amounts of taxes. To be eligible for B Corp Certification, companies are required to pay taxes in each jurisdiction that appropriately reflects their actual income; tax advisory companies are required to advise their clients in ways that follow these requirements, as well. 

ENGLISH | FRENCH | ITALIAN | PORTUGUESE | SPANISH

Whole Life Insurance Products (2019)

Whole life insurance products are controversial because of the limited circumstances in which it is a financially preferable product for customers, its higher margins for brokers, and the lack of transparency about aspects of the product. Companies that predominantly create and sell whole life insurance products would need to demonstrate transformational practices with regard to these issues. As a result, companies who are exclusively serving as brokers for whole life insurance products, particularly for the purpose of financial savings, are ineligible for B Corp certification, as they do not have control over the underlying product.

ENGLISH | FRENCH | ITALIAN | PORTUGUESE | SPANISH

Zoos, Aquariums, and Animal Parks (2016) 

Zoos are controversial because they keep animals captive in an unnatural habitat, can provide inadequate care services, and may participate in the capturing of wild animals to be brought into captivity. Zoos, aquariums, and animal parks are eligible to achieve B Corp Certification only if they are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) or its equivalent, and focused on animal well-being and positive industry practices.

ENGLISH | FRENCH | ITALIAN | PORTUGUESE | SPANISH


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