Louis Brandeis is famous (among other reasons) for writing that ‘Sunlight is said to be the best disinfectant” in a 1913 article in Harpers. Earlier, he had written that, “If the broad light of day could be let in upon men’s actions, it would purify them as the sun disinfects.”
Brandeis argued through his lifetime that exposing bad deeds would help deter them, and he he argued that the public and the media played a significant role in helping to disseminate deviant behaviour. That was long before the internet and social media. Transparency of information would also harness public opinion in the shaping of public policies. Much of Brandeis’ attention was on government transparency, but his ideas on transparency later influenced regulation of private business, especially the early securities regulation requiring large amounts of information disclosure. His ideas still resonate in public policy, ranging from environmental disclosure laws, to executive and public sector salary disclosure laws.
Brandeis influenced MacKenzie King as well, who in developing Canada’s labour law model included mandatory transparency of bargaining positions as a precondition for a legal strike or lockout, believing that public opinion would come down hard on ‘unreasonable’ positions thereby forcing a settlement.
Ontario’s Liberal government draw on Brandeis’ thinking when they began publishing a bad employer sunshine list a couple of years ago. These are employers who have been so recalcitrant in refusing to comply with basic employment standards that the state has needed to pursue prosecution in the criminal courts. I have been doing my Brandeis duty in helping to promote these Bad Employers in the hope that shaming them will cause a change in behaviour and encourage other employers to pay closer attention to employment laws. Pass along the word, and consider whether you want to do business with a Bad Employer.