Meet The Corporation

It has no conscience. It's pathological. And it's in your neighborhood.

| September 29, 2005

Corporations are endowed with what amounts to the power of personhood. But while corporations are treated like humans before the law, they're sorely lacking in humanity. Instead, businesses act like pathological individuals who often fare much better in legal proceedings than their human counterparts would in similar situations. Writing in Sierra, Chris Warren explains how corporate-reform and -accountability activists are working to equalize this power disparity.

As Sierra Club Corporate Accountability Committee member Jim Price tells Warren, 'We've given corporations more power than we reserve for ourselves.' Like human citizens, corporations can contribute to political campaigns and sway elections. But unlike people, chartered corporations are immortal, as charters never expire. Shareholders and corporate directors are protected by 'limited liability' laws that exempt them from certain responsibilities should the company make mistakes or fail. Corporate law has established that corporations should serve the interests of stockholders, but these interests often conflict with the best interest of the public and the environment.

Corporate-accountability and -reform activists Robert Hinkley and Richard Grossman are working to expose unbridled corporate power and the dearth of corporate morality. While Grossman educates the public about corporate rights, Hinkley uncovers their irresponsible actions and preaches the radical notion that corporations should be responsible to people, communities, and the environment.

Concerned citizens and legislators across the country are heeding Grossman and Hinkley's calls to action. They're trying to inject values into corporate armatures and outlaw certain behavior and, in some cases, corporations themselves. A group of individuals in rural Pennsylvania, spurred by the threat of mountains of manure from corporate hog farms contaminating their drinking water, banded together to outlaw corporate farms in their communities. Arcata, California, has had a law on the books since 1998 that prohibits fast-food franchises from opening new locations in the city. Arcata also passed a resolution that acknowledges the citizens' belief that corporations are not people and should not have the same rights as them. Representatives in California, Maine, and Minnesota have penned state bills that seek to make corporations more accountable to the public and the environment.

While those seeking to change corporate values in the United States may have far to go, the European Union is heading down the highway toward corporate responsibility. The EU has set in place extensive environmental regulations and review processes for manufacturers. Warren hopes such measures, along with the ideas of activists like Hinkley and Grossman, may lead the US and other countries down the path toward corporate responsibility.
-- Rose Miller

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