Why I’m a Progressive: Reason #2

I do not think that corporations should have the same rights as actual human citizens. Further, I think we should revisit the pacts that corporations function under when granted such status from the states in which the incorporate. I am not proposing that the privilege of incorporation be granted solely to enable activities that benefit the public, such as construction of roads or canals, as was the case when corporations were first established. But wouldn’t it be nice it they were at least neutral to the public’s interests?

You’d think that things like disasters, or the purity of childhood, or even milk, let alone water or air, would be sacred. But no. Corporations have no built-in limits on what, who, or how much they can exploit for profit. [The Corporation]

The states used to impose certain conditions on those corporations that were granted (some of which remain on the books, though unused) like these:

  • Corporate charters (licenses to exist) were granted for a limited time and could be revoked promptly for violating laws.
  • Corporations could engage only in activities necessary to fulfill their chartered purpose.
  • Corporations could not own stock in other corporations nor own any property that was not essential to fulfilling their chartered purpose.
  • Corporations were often terminated if they exceeded their authority or caused public harm.
  • Owners and managers were responsible for criminal acts committed on the job.
  • Corporations could not make any political or charitable contributions nor spend money to influence law-making.

[SOURCE: Reclaim Democracy’s: Our Hidden History of Corporations in the United States]
Through lobbying and paying off politicians over the years, corporations have rendered all of these laws (and more) obsolete and have effectively put themselves above the law – even those laws that apply to you and me. If you throw a McDonald’s wrapper out the window of your car (I recommend neither eating McDonald’s nor littering) you could get a fine of up to $700 but America’s industry throws the equivalent of millions of wrappers into our air, water and land each day without consequence. And while we all (well most of us) pay income taxes like suckers, our “corporate citizens” often pay little or no income tax1.
The main problem is that corporations are treated as real persons according to some laws but not others. Furthermore, corporations do not have the same moral obligations that people do. The only lawful obligation a corporation has is to generate profit for its shareholders. If making money way your only motivation, how would your actions change? Even the most unscrupulous of people in business have at least a few other motivations. Most corporations corporate persons, do not share this with us.

Corporate personhood is the doctrine that corporations are considered to be individual persons in the eyes of the law. Corporate personhood is the most critical social and political issue of our time. It lies at the heart of campaign finance reform, labor abuse, deterioration of communities, destruction of the environment, and more. [PersonsInc]

Some corporations are beginning to see how their corporate actions are affecting the earth (it’s people, societies, and environment) and are taking steps to ensure that our kids’ kids will be able to enjoy a life such as ours. Ray Anderson, CEO of Interface, Inc, the world’s largest carpet manufacturer (and maker of the very cool interface flor tiles) has identified the following “7 Fronts” on which to wage a war of change:

  1. Eliminate Waste: Eliminating all forms of waste in every area of business;
  2. Benign Emissions: Eliminating toxic substances from products, vehicles and facilities;
  3. Renewable Energy: Operating facilities with renewable energy sources – solar, wind, landfill gas, biomass and low impact hydroelectric;
  4. Closing the Loop: Redesigning processes and products to close the technical loop using recovered and bio-based materials;
  5. Resource-Efficient Transportation: Transporting people and products efficiently to reduce waste and emissions;
  6. Sensitizing Stakeholders: Creating a culture that integrates sustainability principles and improves people’s lives and livelihoods;
  7. Redesign Commerce: Creating a new business model that demonstrates and supports the value of sustainability-based commerce;

Interface has even set up an entire website at interfacesustainability.com to outline its sustainability practices.

Since Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring began to expose the abuses of the modern industrial system, there has been a growing awareness that profit at the expense of Earth–of individuals, society, and the environment–is unsustainable. – Ray Anderson, CEO, Interface, Inc.

There is far more that I could post now than I should post now, so I will end this post with a few links to some groups — actually a suprisingly large number of groups — taking up this, and related, issues. Here are a few:

1 – Even in the “over-taxed” state of Minnesota, there are plenty of large companies (3M, U.S. Bank, Target, General Mills to name a few) that legally pay less than a 5% effective tax rate by utilizing methods of tax reduction not available to “average citizens”. See the story.

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