Should I Work for an “Evil” Company?

A reader writes in with a question that is hard to answer. I thought it’d be best to put the question to you, our readers; hopefully you can help him find his way to a good decision.

Hello:

I am an academic plant geneticists, who has worked at [a renowned academic institution] for the last five years. I’ve pretty much decided I want to leave academia but remain in science. The obvious direction to then go into is biotech and I think I could be a good fit for it. There are many options for me in biotech and I’ve applied for many jobs. The company that has been the most responsive to me is Monsanto.

I’m sure Monsanto would be a great employer for the reasons I would like to work in biotech (stability, good pay/benefits and collaboration). However it is seen by most as perhaps the most “evil” company. I’m confident I would lose a lot of friends if I did work for them. Also, I doubt I would dare tell strangers that I worked for them.

I’m not decided on how I feel about the company myself. I think they have done some messed-up things in the past but so have most large corporations. I’m more pro-GMO than most but also have my reservations. I understand the need for a company to patent seeds. I doubt I would be doing evil work for them and would not do it if I knew I was.

I wonder if you would find it of interest to look into the ways people decide to work for companies that most people hate. I doubt all those people are dead inside. Maybe most people can easily make the decision to work for famously “evil” companies or not but I can’t see it as obviously black or white.


Eric B

Do you want to help them be successful? If the answer is "no" for whatever reason, find another company to work for.

Erik Janus

As a former employee, I wouldn't bother to apply if I were you. The interview process is designed to cull those who will not stand up for what the company wants. If you are "confident" you will lose friends (I will admit people looked at me differently but I didn't lose anyone I would consider a friend) and if "doubt you will tell strangers," than honestly, Monsanto isn't for you. There are lots of options for someone with a background such as yours, including those in industry.

Robb_

I at one time worked for an "evil company." Maybe not on the level of BioTech, but I hated everything about Comcast. They told us to do anything to make people lose money. There were sooo many hidden fees, and there was no way for us to get rid of them (customers always tell us we can, but we can't). Buuut I did find a loophole, which gave me joy. I felt like I could hurt the company from the inside.

For every sell of Comcast's major three products (phone, cable, and internet), I would receive $30. I realized that many people were paying for cable and internet, because who needs a phone anymore, right?? Wrong. The package deal for all three was almost always cheaper than buying cable and internet separately. And you could add phone without actually purchasing a phone of having a technician come out. So of course I added a lot of telephone. My boss was thrilled cause all he ever saw on his side is I was creating "sells."

Sooo, I was able to find my joy working for a company I hate AND make some money in the process. I'm not sure if this applies, cause I didn't cause much of a dent, and you may be able to. I'd take the job but find a way to make it a game that's fun for me and helps the people. And if worse comes to worse, listening to Freakonomics' episode on quitting.

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Steve O

I'm pretty sure Comcast is more evil than Monsanto...

Robb_

Also, I'm now an ad man. If Nike or Apple ever gave me a shot, I would take it in a heartbeat. Somehow my own prestige and the money I would make would enough to callous me from their awful practices. That's probably fudged up.

Austin

I can't cast personal judgment, as each decision we make has reasoning that is personal to the decision maker, so as long as you are thinking long and hard about it I can't really say that you are doing right or wrong because right and wrong is rather subjective (at least from my point of view it is). That being said, Monsanto is a horrible company. What they have done to farmers is despicable, and I wouldn't be able to know that I was helping such a horrible corporation by working for them. It seems like you must have garnered some great knowledge, wisdom and skill regarding your field through the years, so why not apply it towards something constructive rather than destructive. I am not sure what exactly would be "constructive," especially if you don't view Monsanto as "destructive." Hate to say it, put this is ultimately a personal decision (obviously) however, since you asked, I would say don't do it!

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Sam L

To me, it is a matter of values (combined consideration of your highest held priorities of morality, ethics, and material goods). You have to decide for yourself what is most important to you - the respect of others, your own internal comfort, or your financial stability. In the perfect job, all of these would coincide. When they don't you have decide for yourself what you truly value most.

These are the trade-offs that we make every day. Do we care more about quality of life or salary? Prestige or privacy? Ourselves or society?

I don't think it is black and white, but I think clear self knowledge helps you make decisions with which you can be satisfied.

Taylor

You pose an interesting question and I commend your honesty; both to yourself and the world wide web. I think the root of your question is what do you value most? Does providing for your family trump your reputation? Does not violating your convictions outweigh saving for college and retirement? What principles, religious, philosophical, ethical, practical, do you hold dear and cannot be violated? Once you identify these then I think your answer will become clear. If providing for your family trumps your reputation then ultimately Monsanto makes sense. However, if your convictions about their actions trump salary, benefits, research opportunities then Monsanto may not be the best choice.

As you said, not all work done there is evil and their work meets a need. However, in working for the organization you are tacitly supporting them at a minimum and thereby what they represent, you also represent. When you figure out your values then your values will drive your actions. Best of luck.

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Cooper

For most of us, working for somebody else's business and not for ourselves, being thoroughly proud of the work we're doing is inherently rare since it's a job to fit someone else's needs and not our own. So, I say 'Stuff that' and take the job. We all need to work and when it comes to work experience later on (should you choose to leave for some compelling reason) it will be easier to explain leaving a job/three jobs/ten jobs due to ethical or ideological reasons than it is to explain or tout a resume with only one longheld Academic job.

Go ahead and take the job. What's the worst that could happen? You still have all the qualifications that got you the job in the first place.

AJ

IMHO the best thing you can do from a good/evil perspective would be to take a job there, make yourself indispensable by accumulating and hoarding business knowledge, then start doing bad work. I've worked with a number of people that were doing more harm to the company with their terrible work than if they had just stayed home doing nothing. Take 'em down from the inside and get paid while you do it!

MP

You need to decide if your contribution to what Monsanto does is something you can live with. I'll tell you, if you work for them, you will undoubtedly be successful; we have tried to quit Monsanto foods, but they are so far-reaching that we ultimately end up buying something they've created. It's really unclear at this point what kind of damage their products cause - perhaps none? Perhaps a great amount? If it turns out they do great harm and you're either involved or knew about it and covered it up, is that something with which you can live?

Bell

I proudly work in the energy industry. My company has recently suffered some representational issues and is branded by outsiders as 'evil'. My philosophy is that it's easier to steer a ship if you're on board than by throwing rocks at the hull. If this is an industry you feel you can impact positively with thought leadership, go all in. Good luck!

Alex

Look at the opportunity cost of deciding to work for a company that you are on the fence about. Monsanto is certainly not the only bio-tech company out there, while they are a giant in their industry. Think ahead one year from now, imagine that you have been hired at Monsanto and have been given decent pay and benefits. You have just spent a year working for a company that is paying you the average to do work that you don't necessarily agree with, but even more importantly, you have given up a year that you could have been doing something else.

You are job searching now, make this time count. Be picky and try to get several options on the table. It's okay to go to an interview, find out more about the company, get an offer and then turn it down (especially if other offers look more attractive) . Try to get interviews at several companies, that span a range of options. Realize that now you are devoting time to job hunting, and that in your first three to six months of a new job, you probably won't have time to look for something else. So, make the most of this time. Ask what you want to get out of a job, besides pay/benefits. Wait for a good fit that meets your expectations. The company you work for should give the best to you, because you will be giving your best to it.

Lastly, if you are still on the fence when looking at different companies, I recommend www.glassdoor.com. You can see reviews of a company from people who have actually worked there. It's like reading reviews for purchasing a product on-line, very helpful. Start with this link:
http://www.glassdoor.com/Reviews/Monsanto-Company-Reviews-E11986.htm

Good Luck!

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Someone

I think there are three issues lurking here. Is Monsanto an evil company? Personally, I seriously doubt that and actually believe that by using market incentives to increase agricultural productivity, they provide enormous surplus in the world, perhaps in one of the most sensitive areas, which is food production (by the way, I do not work neither am I paid by Monsanto).
The second issue is: should someone work for a company they perceive as evil? My answer is definitely not. You spend your entire day on your job and you studied a lot so that you would have a chance to do something with your day that interests you. If you think you are doing something evil, you won't be happy in a million years. But maybe you don't think they are evil at all, but are afraid that your friends might think that.
Which brings to the third issue: should someone work for a company many of their friends/family perceive as evil? Most people will tell you "of course; you should do what you believe in your heart and not what your friends will approve of". But I think this is not as simple as that. Humans are social animals and approval of friends and family might be as important for our life satisfaction as food and shelter.
Bottom line: unless you are really motivated to work there and actually explain to all your friends and family why you think that your decision is actually unleashing the power of markets towards the greater good, you probably shouldn't apply.

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Dr. Emma Blackthorne

Hello Former Academician;

I have also worked for less than reputable companies, and lost friends over the choice as well as endured a good deal of social pressure. Of course when I first signed on, I had the high hopes of maintaining my personal ethics despite corporate pressure -- corporate pressure won out. After a period of time (short few months) I became disillusioned and resentful toward the company. I found myself plotting creative ways to quit, as well as fantasizing over monkey-wrenching the unethical corporate agenda. Long story short, I hated myself, I hated my job, I resented the company, and I wished I never choose to work for them. In fact, to this very day I exclude them from my CV entirely due to the personal shame.

My advice, don't do it. The anguish I felt each day I went to work impacted my family negatively, my self perception was in the toilet, and I was an emotional terror to be around. It wasn't until I finally quit that I felt some measure of relief. Corporate monsters are corporate monsters no matter how you dress them up. If you know that from the start avoid the future pain and find a place that will appreciate the value YOU bring to table, a place that respects you, and you can respect them in return.

Corporations, even "evil" ones, can make the employment offer tempting (by making it look like it is not so black and white -- it's the exterior facade they put up); but they are not worth diminishing your integrity and self perception. If you love your work, start your own company, build it to offer other people the opportunity to be passionate about biotech. That's what I ended up doing; I started a nonprofit, by using my skills, talents, and education. I built a great place to work not only for myself, but for others too.

I know that advice seems pedantic or perhaps impossible, but if you feel that strongly about biotech you will find a way. If you need help starting a business, you are already in touch with the right folks.

Your Friend;
Dr. Emma Blackthorne

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Brad

What you haven't told us is your alternative to the Monsanto job. The difference in stability, pay, benefits, and collaboration is your opportunity cost to taking a job with a cleaner ethical profile. The tough assessment is assigning a dollar cost to an ethical concern. That's something only you can answer.

But it sounds like you personally don't have much of an ethical concern, but many in your social circle do. I'd recommend that you heavily discount those concerns. Focus instead on what you believe is right for you and (if applicable) your family.

I'd also like to ask what the letter-writer thinks about the possibility that his/her perception of the public opinion of Monsanto is pulled from a sample that is not representative of society as a whole.

Jay

This is going to sound pretty bad but what evil doesn't the average American support nowadays? Buy anything in plastic containers or bags? Drive a car? Drink coke? Buy clothes made in China or Mexico (Nike maybe?) and support sweat shops? I think you get it. Monsanto looks bad in the media now, but it's not like Altria right? If you like what you do, why worry about what others think? Do what you want and forget the "haters". Besides they only see what the media tells them. You'll have first hand experience to actually explain to your family and friends what they do! Tell them you're going to work for Monsanto to try and inspire change from the inside. You know, hope and peace and love and vegetables.

Sanchit

Well, I think the idea is that you'd like to join them and then change them from the inside. Change their culture and beliefs. If you can do that while providing shareholder value then go ahead and try it out for "X" number of months. If you failed, you can tell your friends that you tried and it'll look good on your resume.

Evil corporations are by their very definition selfish and unproductive. What could you possibly hope to gain from this experience if not for a few extra wads of cash and another level-up on your resume?

What you really wanna do is start your own practise, it seems to me.

Stephen T

If you honestly believe that Monsanto is an evil company then you should not work for them. I personally know a man who works for Monsanto, and he is not afraid to tell people he works for them. Do you know why? Because the whole idea behind Monsanto being evil is hogwash. Why does it matter that they patent their seeds? Organic seed companies patent their seeds too. Monsanto is not the exception. Here is an excellent article from a guy who did in depth research into Monsanto, and his findings.
http://www.quora.com/Is-Monsanto-evil/answer/Franklin-Veaux?srid=y5k&share=1
(I am not sure if I can post links, but reply back and I will figure out a way to send the link if this doesn't work)
Hope this helps.

Rick Wagner

Hard question.
I've worked for a 'bad' company before. The company engaged in business practices that exploited people and their personal data. They had frequent layoffs, made employees comply to very unfavorable conditions, and generally treated people like dirt. The really funny thing is this same company jumps on board every 'Social Media' cause to try to paint themselves as compassionate and caring. The one redeeming value this company had was that it paid well at a time when I needed it.
So.... I worked for that company and did the best job I could. After a while, a great opportunity arose to work for a really great company, one that treats people much better. (Though they are less vocal about it on social media. That's fine with me, I know they are a great company with great values.)
Good luck to you. I hope in the end you find a happy place to be.