Social Responsibility

Mr. Wiborg is President of the Univar Corporation. This is from his report to the Annual Meeting in Seattle, June 25, 1975.

Much has been said in regard to the social responsibilities of business, and businessmen have oftentimes risen to the defense of their businesses and the free enterprise system. I am not here today to defend the free enterprise system or what is done by responsible businessmen. Instead, I am here today to praise it. Too often we have been on the defensive where we should stand back in awe and admiration of the only economic system ever to function in the world to provide freedom and the right of free choice to each individual who will make an effort within that system.

Throughout all of the written history of the western world, men have strived to obtain individual freedom and a right of each person to ownership of his own property and to the enjoyment thereof. In the middle ages the world suffered from feudalism and serfdom but with the dawning of the industrial revolution and the concepts of individual freedom introduced in England and reaching their culmination in America, each man had the right to his own property and the rewards of his own effort. Freedom meant that no other man had a right to those rewards or to the sweat of another’s brow. Slavery was abolished but with the insidiousness of a plague, slavery began to reappear in the form of Marxism so that today we are told each of us is obligated, not through enlightened self-interest and not through our own sense of consciousness but through Government mandate and taxation to give of our effort and our production and our capabilities to others who will not make this effort. In the Communist countries the pendulum has swung fullfold to slavery. Freedom has been so instilled in the western nations that those who would bring slavery back have not dared to use force, but we are permitting them to achieve the same result.

I think all of us must be conscious of our obligations to help those who are truly infirm, aged or incapable of providing for themselves. Beyond that, increasing taxation eventually becomes slavery through depriving one man who is willing to work and produce through his own effort of the rewards of that effort by transferring a portion of these rewards to another who is not willing to apply himself.

Freedom of the individual requires the right of self-initiative and of private ownership and the rewards that flow therefrom. It is incumbent upon all of us at every possible opportunity to speak of the glories and benefits of our free enterprise system rather than defend its weaknesses. There will always be those who abuse as there have been in business, labor and government but no other system has given so many people such a wonderful and prosperous way of life.

Our company last year fully carried its social responsibilities and beyond, as did the people who worked so productively in it. We contributed sizeable amounts to charity. We paid enormous amounts of taxes. We built fine plants and maintained them well. We created jobs through employment of capital and through ingenuity of management. We provided employee benefits and improved them. Our people individually gave of their time in their communities as well as through their own taxes earned by their productivity effort. What I am saying to you is that responsible businesses are not only carrying their load of social responsibility but beyond, and it is time to point the finger accusingly at those who want and expect to receive something in exchange for nothing, those who will not produce, although capable of doing so, and at governments who continue to burden the productive elements of our system with heavier and heavier loads until the golden wagon will surely break.