Should you only do business with those that share your values?

Photo by Fadzly @ Shutterhack
Photo by Fadzly @ Shutterhack

Many of us working on free and open source software have strong values and we want to make the world a better place. I’m comfortable predicting that the rate of vegetarians, recyclers, hybrid vehicle owners and just general environmentally conscious people is higher than average in free and open source software projects.

We want to work with and support companies that support our values. We buy brands like Seventh Generation products, we try to support companies like System 76 and ZaReason. And we avoid “evil” companies. After hearing Dish Network was the Meanest Company in America, I’m researching other cable providers.

But how much can you restrict your partnerships to those that perfectly align with your values? Is a company evil if it doesn’t match your values in all areas? I personally buy products and have business relationships with companies that I may not be 100% aligned with. (Although some may be too far from alignment.) Sometimes it’s because I haven’t done any research – I buy gas where it’s most convenient not from the most environmentally conscious gas provider. Sometimes it’s because there’s not much of an alternative – if I want high speed network at home, Comcast is my option. Sometimes it’s because I think that while they are not perfect, they are providing a service that makes my world better.

If you partner with someone who doesn’t share all of your values, assuming the partnership goes well, you have a chance to influence them. My friends are much more likely to listen to my opinions than someone I’ve never had a coffee or a beer with.

Now, I realize that open source software projects are often less in the position of partnering and more in the position of accepting donations. But again, I think your chances are greater for being a positive influence if you are working with them than if you are not. You should examine the organization’s motives and make sure if you are part of a political play, that you are comfortable with that move. I still remember the wealthy individual trying to build a big chain store in the town I lived in who donated a house to a family in need. While it was a great donation, and I would thank him for it in person if I saw him, I also know it landed him on the front page of the paper in a positive light at a very controversial time. Should the family have turned down his donation? Probably not. Should those that were anti-big-chain-store have done something differently. Probably.

But the fear of being associated with a company that’s not perfect or of being used as part of political play should not hold us back from investigating options and starting partnerships.

I think open source software projects often hold themselves back. They don’t investigate partnerships that could be beneficial because the other organization is not perfect. Proprietary software is not evil – a lot of really great innovation has been led by proprietary software companies. And doing business with an organization that has proprietary software will not make an open source organization any less good. There will be no perfect organization just like there is no perfect person. You have to recognize the opportunity for good in people and organizations and work with them where it can make sense for both of you.

Make the world a better place through partnerships because if you insist on doing it all yourself, it’s going to be a long road. Personally, I want to visit the stars someday, so I hope those that share a vision of star travel work together even if they don’t always agree on how to do it. I want to live in a world where everyone has access to computing power and the internet and control over their experience and their data. I think in order to do that, we’re all going to have to work together. And we’re going to have to work with those that might agree on pieces of our plan but not the end vision, and that will be ok. The super helpful Comcast guy might not share my vision of the world, but he helped me make it possible for me to continue working on it.

14 Replies to “Should you only do business with those that share your values?”

  1. Stormy

    This makes sense to me. I think there is also a big place in the world for people who want to work only with people they feel completely aligned with, and we should respect that. But I am with you, I personally want Mozilla to go where consumers live and offer new choices there. Most consumers live squarely in the world of services and sites and companies that aren’t open source software and may share only some if any of Mozilla values. I want Mozilla to be there, moving consumer’s experiences closer to our values. We won’t be starting from perfection (I doubt we’ll end up with perfection either), but moving the options in the right direction has huge impact.

  2. Mozilla would have much less influence on web standards if it didn’t work side by side with IE and Opera folks on occasion.

    Microsoft Research has done some amazing things, despite where its money comes from.

    And, coming at it from the other perspective: the GNU project has done amazing work over the years despite pulling stuff like the GFDL.

    You can’t live your life putting everyone on a binary scale of “completely aligned with me or utterly unacceptable”. Nobody will ever agree with you on absolutely everything, so you always have to choose your battles, and recognize shades of gray, and set your threshold for “I refeuse to have *anything* to do with them” much higher.

  3. I have a slightly different take on what you are proposing. I work for a small religious institution (whose large institution is headquartered in Rome), although my intention is not to get religion involved in this discussion.

    However, a number of years ago, we developed a policy where we would only invest in companies that were in line with our “teachings” and likewise would only purchase from companies that were in line with our “teachings” unless there were no viable alternatives.

    Now obviously, you are not a church, but if you substitute philosophy for teachings, the concept is very similar. If you value a,b and c, why would you want to support companies and/or profit from companies that were opposed to a,b and c?

    Obviously, when talking about open-source versus closed-source applications things get dicey. Open-source software does need to inter-operate with their closed-source cousins. That is not really a violation. However, using, say Microsoft Office to develop test documents with and for compatibility testing is different than using it for day to day word processing.

    More important, though, is your consumer decisions (whether as an individual or a business), which again, ties into the church example. If you value open-source software and need to purchase new computers, then why would you not purchase from companies that also demonstrate that they share those values? Sure, you might be able to get a Dell, cheaper, but then what you are demonstrating is that you, yourself value cost more than principle.

    Businesses respond to demand. If people express their values with their wallets, then businesses will respond. This is true whether the values deal with open-source software or weapons of mass destruction.

    Through my own personal experience with my employer, and believe me, I was a nay-sayer, I have seen how effective even a little fish in a very large pond can be. Our organization is really not a fish, but more like a pebble tossed into that pond, as small as we are, the ripples created reach the entire pond. As more of our “faithful” make similar choices, more and more ripples are created until the once stagnant and calm pond is anything but. That is how change comes about.

    There is nothing to say that you as an individual or as part of the gnome community, or any other community cannot be just as effective. It only takes one person to get change started. It doesn’t take many more to keep it going.

    1. I understand that you can encourage or discourage businesses with your consumer decisions but I don’t think the world is influenced only by consumers. We have other relationships in our lives, business and otherwise. For example, I am friends with people regardless of their religious beliefs. Although that’s probably not a good example as I never try to change people’s religious beliefs. A better example, I am friends with someone whether or not they use free software. I hope my friends are more likely to use free software like GNOME or Firefox because they know me. But I certainly wouldn’t not be friends with non-free software users in hopes that they would start using it to be friends with me!

      1. My comments were only directed towards your questions regarding companies and business relationships. I would never, ever propose or condone such a method or personal relationships!

        However, people are so vastly more important, that basing relationships because of one’s religion, or ethnic group, or skin color, or nationality or anything other than who they are as a person is unconscionable.

        So for the record, I am only suggesting such an approach with business decisions and consumer decisions hen dealing with entities that are actually opposed to what your values are (not because they are different). And never should people, themselves, b subordinated to one’s personal views.

        As a real example of what I am trying to say, I am opposed to offensive weapons of war and choose not to invest or do business with companies that derive a significant part of their income from such activities (20%). That said, one of my very good friends works for a defense contractor. H

        The job he does, to provide for his family, does not hinder our friendship. I may not like his choice, but I do respect his right to make that choice. Likewise, he understands my reservations and doesn’t try and force his choice on me. We are great friends and both would have lost out if we let ideology rule over individuality. Of course that is a strong value that both of us share!

        I don’t know if that clarifies what I was trying to say, but I hope so.

  4. This is a well intentioned post, and I appreciate your efforts. However, like Joe says, I’m of a slightly different perspective.

    To make things easier, I will focus on one entity we all know to be actively hostile to Open source/foss, Microsoft.

    By its very nature, Open Source software works against Microsofts business interests. We develop software that provides alternatives to the Microsoft ecosystem. Competition.

    As a for profit entity, whose profits must increace year on year (exponential, else shareholders will loose interest) Microsoft must grow both its market penetration AND expand into new areas to remain relevent and trading.

    So If we as (reluctent) customers spend money on products produced by that company, we unavoidable help them to increase their market share and strengthen their ability to undermine their competition (Open source software).

    Think of it this way, each time you buy something from Microsoft, as a bonus, they give you a troll comment to deal with. Because in truth that is the direct effect of giving them your Money.

    “Give be your business and I’ll kick you in the teeth”

    So when you suggest the foss community should work with these businesses, in order to change their minds, it is clear to see this approach actively hiders the development of foss.

    I think someone once said “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

    1. For many years while at HP I sat on panels about open source software and business and Microsoft representatives on many of those panels. While they make their money from proprietary software, I do not think they are opposed to free software. They are focused on making money and see products that do the same things as theirs as competitors, but I would not call them anti-foss.

      1. Microsoft is in the business to make a profit for their shareholders. There is nothing wrong with that and every corporation does likewise. The way Microsoft does this is through there various product lines.

        Anything that can jeopardize those products, whether foss or Apple, is a threat. Again, no surprise and nothing unique to Microsoft. But part of the role of management at Microsoft is to mitigate or minimize the risk of those threats. Again, that is normal for any business, but even though normal, it does mean that Microsoft was opposed to foss in as much as it was a threat to their product lines and profit margins.

      2. Sure, I understand what you are saying, though doesn’t your statement contradict tangible evidence? For instance the “haloween documents” as one of many examples.

        Considering their bottom line depends on them at least retaining current levels of revenue, do you think they are going to help a very capable competitor to take it away?

        At the very best Microsoft sends employees to sit on panels to stay abreast of its competitors developments. At worst, its to actively hinder FOSS development and market penetration.

      3. By the way,

        Your perspective on this subject is testament to how nice and genuine as a person you are. It’s good to know there are people like yourself in the FOSS world actively working towards a better future.

        One of the problems (if you can call it that) genuine people have is that they find it hard to understand why people would want to be deceitful. Its outside of their experience as a person. and if you have little experience of being deceitful, its hard to identify it when it happens.

  5. Nearly OT: Most people in free software who I know (including myself) don’t own hybrid vehicles, but bicycles or they use public transport :~)

  6. I truly agree with you that each time you buy something from Microsoft, as a bonus, they give you a troll comment to deal with. Because in truth that is the direct effect of giving them your Money.

  7. I think there are degrees of difference. Doing business with an oil company, for example, vs doing business with North Korea. If the business is mutually beneficial it shouldn’t be a concern. If you make a profit from the transaction, you would have more capitol to invest in projects or organizations that align with your belief systems.

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