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Ethics at the Drive-Thru

Does this describe you?

You pull up to the menu in the drive-thru lane at McDonald's and ponder the choices: Big Mac with fries and Coke, Quarter Pounder, or perhaps the tasty chicken sandwich, soaked in grease.

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The kids in the back seat holler for Happy Meals with a side order of Teenie Beanie Babies. And instead of pondering the virtues of Value Meals, you're wondering about values. Does McDonald's sizzle when it comes to lifting the glass ceiling for women? Does it deplete the ozone, denude the rain forest, demean laborers in developing countries?

Myself, I tend to wonder whether the folks in the kitchen can successfully hold the mayo and the ketchup and whether they'll check the back seat to see if someone in the appropriate age category ordered the Happy Meal and Teenie Beanie Baby.

But if you have a deeper sense of what's important, if you want toothpaste made by people who don't kill animals to check how well it whitens - well, here's the beef.

This week's Work & Money deals with ways to help your dollars follow your conscience.

Laurent Belsie notes a variety of groups that offer a variety of ways to measure corporate conscience.

The values that companies bring to their business practices have become increasingly important to increasing numbers of consumers - 44 million at last count and growing.

My daughter, Lee, is one of them. And where her dad and brother might spend several hours debating the merits of flame-broiled versus fried, she might politely ask why we would want to spend any money on a company not inclined to give people like her - those of the female persuasion - equal opportunity.

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She uses Tom's of Maine toothpaste (no animal testing) and will scarcely go near a pharmacy aisle that stocks Gillette products for the same reason that she found makeup that makes her look good without resorting to the ugly practice of animal testing.

She's rational, brilliant, passionate, (did I mention we're related?) in college, and not shy about shopping. She is a thinking consumer who has lots of choices. And she has lots of friends.

If I were an American corporate strategic planner, I would think carefully about getting crosswise with generation-Lee.

Quick hits

Some interesting developments in the news last week. The stock market, led by technology companies, powered up. The bulls figure that Japan will, after a decade of breaking promises for economic reform, keep them this time.

And they know that the American economy is strong enough to deflect almost any problem that comes its way. The latest numbers show the US economy in overdrive, up 5.4 percent in the first three months of 1998.

And speaking of global economic powers, Microsoft released Windows 98, the upgrade of its operating system for personal computers. As near as I can tell, for $89, you get a product whose primary appeal is that it makes your computer start faster. Go figure.

My opinion? If you want a computer that's faster, easier, and better, buy an Apple. The new G3s run circles around anything that runs Windows 98, and there is something vaguely unconscionable about rewarding Microsoft - one of the world's richest companies - for an inferior product.


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