Executive remuneration has become a highly controversial topic. Together with a growing debate on income inequality in most Western democracies the public’s interest in the issue has grown considerably over recent years. Consequently, campaign groups, advocacy organizations, and governments are increasingly turning to the internet to not only draw attention to the issue but also to create higher levels of transparency. We can identify three types of websites dealing with executive remuneration. First, we see a growing number of activist groups who use the internet to expose high salaries and provide resources to understand the problems around executive pay and income inequality. A good example of this type of activist website is the UK-based High Pay Centre which defines itself as ‘an independent non-party think tank established to monitor pay at the top of the income distribution and set out a road map towards better business and economic success’. Next to a tongue-in-cheek pay counter displaying the average salary of a FTSE100 CEO since the beginning of the year (it moves pretty fast!) it provides research on the topic, video footage, and other social media relating to executive pay. Other activist websites along these lines are based in the trade union movement, such as the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), which has a section called Executive Paywatch where you can find instructive infographics about the issue. Similar websites creating transparency and providing advocacy around executive remuneration are now available in many other languages and countries, such as the German Gehaltsreporter (‘salary reporter’). A second group of websites about executive remuneration are those initiated by governments, primarily for the purposes of disclosure rather than advocacy. In the US, transparency around executive pay has been particularly pushed by recent legislation in the Dodd–Frank Act (see also Ethics in Action 6.1), which requires companies to publish the ratio between CEO compensation and the median salary of employees. In Canada, to date, such transparency has focused only on public sector salaries, with the provinces publishing the salary of all public sector employees earning more than $100,000 per year (including, we should add, university professors). This so-called ‘sunshine list’ gets published every year and is subject to wide public scrutiny—not to mention being a ceaseless source of office gossip across the Canadian public sector. A third group of web resources relating to the topic are sites, often run by advisory consultants, that not only offer transparency about typical pay levels of particular jobs but also provide advice to employees on how to best negotiate their salary, or, to employers, on how best to set their employees’ salaries., for example, enables you to browse the going salaries for a multitude of positions across the US and Canada, providing data on upper and lower levels and the median salary, both with and without bonuses. The issue of executive compensation is likely to stay on the public agenda for some time. The internet is proving to be a powerful resource offering much more data and insight on this often secretive issue. Ultimately, this looks set to be a boost for advancing transparency and accountability relating to one of the thorniest of ethical problems in corporate governance.


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