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Whole Foods' co-CEO says business is 'inherently socially responsible' — here's why that's wrong

BEVERLY HILLS — Yesterday, I moderated a panel at the Milken Global Conference featuring founders of companies with social missions. One panelist was John Mackey, the co-founder and co-CEO of Whole Foods Market.

Mackey made a bold claim: "Business is inherently socially responsible." You can see his argument here, starting at 9:50:

"Business is creating value for its customers, right?" Mackey said. "It's creating jobs, providing benefits, helping people, giving them opportunities to learn and grow in the workplace, trading with suppliers — and that money ripples through the economy that way and creates more prosperity. They're creating value for their investors, they pay major taxes, they are philanthropic. I mean, business doesn't have to atone for being a business."

Whole Foods operates under a list of eight core values that describe how the company aims to serve various stakeholders. Only one of the eight core values is directly about shareholders — "we create wealth through profits and growth" — but Mackey argued the company's stated goals for serving customers, employees, the environment and other parties are mutually reinforcing with its goal of making profits for its owners.

I think Mackey is right that businesses are responsible for much of...