The corporate winners of the annual ``corporate conscience'' awards sponsored by the Council on Economic Priorities (CEP) here have at least one element in common: They are recognized United States companies eager not only to make a profit in the marketplace, but also to make a contribution in their respective communities. The winners, who were to be honored at a gala gathering at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel yesterday, are Dayton-Hudson, a Minneapolis-based retailer, for charitable contributions; Federal Express, a Memphis-based national delivery service, for employer responsiveness; Eastman Kodak, for equal-opportunity programs; Applied Energy Services, a privately held power generator and energy consultant company in Arlington, Va., for environmental programs; and Digital Equipment Corporation, for community-action programs.
Two companies received honorable mentions, H.B. Fuller Company, a paint company based in the Minneapolis area, for environmental programs; and Newman's Own, a food company, for charitable contributions.
Giving an award to a giant corporation for ``good works'' may sound somewhat odd in this day of corporate mergers and congressional probes. But for the CEP, this was the third award ceremony.
The council was formed back in 1969 as an independent, nonprofit research organization focusing on the role of the corporation, in terms of its goals and its relationship to society. Although some executives over the years have criticized public-interest groups such as the CEP for ``meddling'' in business affairs, the council has garnered substantial support from the corporate world.
James E. Preston, chief executive officer of Avon Products Inc. and chairman of this year's awards, maintains that the CEP has helped to spur companies to examine their own responsibilities to the larger community. ``We've seen dramatic progress since the council began its research into corporate social responsibility,'' says Mr. Preston, whose own company was honored in 1987 for its promotion of women and minorities.
In addition to recognizing companies favorably, the CEP identifies companies that it feels deserve a dishonorable mention. There were two this year: E.I. duPont de Nemours & Co., for such issues as failing to disclose safety information, and John Morrell & Co., which was fined last year by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for ``willfully ignoring'' dangerous conditions in its meatpacking plants.
``This type of corporate identification'' by public-interest groups is really not ``all that new,'' says Al Bourland, who heads up congressional relations for the Chamber of Commerce of the US.
The council also puts out ``Shopping for a Better World,'' a pocket-size guide to some 140 companies and more than 1,300 brand names. The book sold out its first printing of 150,000 copies, as well as 20,000 copies of its second printing. Ballantine Books will publish a revised edition later this year.
The book notes, for example, which products are made by corporations that also manufacture cigarettes, or are engaged in ``union busting.'' It cites the record of companies in terms of advancement of women and minorities, the environment, investment in South Africa, charitable giving, community outreach, nuclear power, animal testing, military contracts, and disclosure.
As an example of the ``good works'' undertaken by yesterday's award winners, the council notes that Dayton-Hudson first undertook a policy of helping out charities back in 1946. About 40 percent of its charitable contributions now goes to programs designed to help the social and economic betterment of individuals or neighborhoods.