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Historically has anyone succeeded in holding such giant firms accountable to their own stated principles? At the moment, I like those principles more than I like Google.

I'm not sure externally being held accountable is as important as it would seem.

Publicly stated principles such as these give a clear framework for employees to raise ethical concerns in a way that management is likely to listen to.

For example, one of my previous employers had ten "tenets of operation" that began with "Always". While starting each one with "never" would have been more accurate in practice, they were still useful. If you wanted to get management to listen to you about a potential safety or operational issue, framing the conversation in terms of "This violates tenet #X" was _extremely_ effective. It gave them a common language to use with their management about why an issue was important. Otherwise, potentially lethal safety hazards were continually blown off and the employees who brought them up were usually reprimanded.

Putting some airy-sounding principles in place and making them very public is effective because they're an excellent internal communication tool, not because of external accountability.

Look at it from the other side: with those principles written down, executives will at least have the option to adhere to them, something to point at when they do. Without, shareholders might give them a very hard time for every not strictly illegal profit opportunity they preferred to skip.

Google might be in a position to not get bullied around much by investors though, so that line of thought might be slightly off topic here.

One example I can think of is private colleges. Many in the US have made public statements dedicating themselves to uphold principles like freedom of speech. Organizations like FIRE do a pretty good job holding them accountable to those principles and there are many instances in which they have documentated policy or enforcement changes made due to their activism.

Arguably, the Googlers who stopped Maven just did. Labor organization is the one of the few checks on this level of corporate power.

The funny thing about "holding people accountable" is that people rarely explain what it means, and I'm not even sure they know what it means? It's a stock phrase in politics that needs to be made more concrete to have any meaning.

As best as I can tell, it means something like "using the generally available levers of social shame and guilt to dissuade someone from doing something, or if they have already done the bad thing, then requiring them to explain their behavior in a satisfactory way and make a public commitment to avoid doing it again."

And it requires that you be in a position of power - otherwise it's just heckling, which isn't likely to have any real impact. In this case it'd be having the ability to impose fines, or discipline corporate officers, etc.

I wouldn't think of bad press is "just heckling." A company's reputation can be worth billions in sales.

It's true that many boycotts fizzle out, though.

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