What to do about Corporations?
There is a growing movement to rein in corporations. In Taking Care Of
Business: Citizenship and the Charter of Incorporation, a 32-page booklet
published in 1993, Richard Grossman and Frank T. Adams reviewed the history
of corporations assuming the rights of individuals and even surpassing the
rights of natural humans.
"We are out of the habit of contesting the legitimacy of corporations
like International Paper, Du Pont, General Motors or Union Carbide."
they wrote. "But we can challenge corporate-shielding legal doctrines
and deny judges the final say over our economic lives, over the planet's
flora and fauna, rivers and mountains, and over our children's future.
"We can revoke corporate charters. Our state legislatures continue
to have an historic and legal obligation to amend and revoke corporate charters,
along with the certificates of authority that permit corporations to conduct
business outside their chartering state. Our elected state legislators are
still responsible for overseeing all corporate activities."
They added, "By rewriting the laws governing corporations, we citizens
can reassert the convictions of the people who struggled to resist corporate
rule in the past." Among them, they asserted,
* The corporation is an artificial creation and must not enjoy the protections
of the Bill of Rights.
* Corporate owners and officiers must be liable for all the harms they cause.
* No corporation should exist forever.
"Our sovereign right to decide what is produced and to organize our
work is as American as a serf-governing people's right to vote," Grossman
and Adams wrote. "We can assert our historical and legal rights over
the fiction that is the modern corporation."
In 1995 Grossman and Ward Morehouse appealed to the National Lawyers Guild
to help craft legal strategies to overturn the power of corporations, from
revoking corporate charters to defending people and organizations from lawsuits
designed to intimidate the public and other efforts to deny speech, assembly,
and related rights.
Grossman, in an interview with the Corporate Crime Reporter published
Nov. 24, said he was an activist who started researching corporate history
in the 1980s. That led to the publication with Adams of Taking Care of
Business. He and other "gray-haired people who have been politically
active for a long time" formed the Program on Corporations, Law and
Democracy (POCLAD) to explore alternatives to conventional activism.
Grossman and POCLAD are seeking to reframe the debate over corporate power.
Grossman said of corporate officials, "The smartest among them also
understand that as long as they keep the citizen groups on the defensive,
fighting corporate harms one-by-one, fighting their next NAFTA, GATT, MAI,
they keep us from going on the offensive. They keep us from strategies that
challenge their authority. They even have us believing that when we ban
one chemical, or stop a dump here, or stop a factory there, or pass some
little thing like the Maine Clean Elections law, it is a great setback for
"As long as they keep us thinking that way, then we are not thinking
about who we are as people, we are not thinking about our sovereign authority,
and we are not aspiring to the revolutionary idea of self-governance. As
long as we are not challenging corporate authority to govern, then we are
always on the defensive, we are always fighting the symptoms."
David Korten, author of When Corporations Rule the World [Kumarian
Press, 1995] wrote, "Policies advocated by free market or corporate
libertarian ideologues have led to the creation of an economic system out
of control. ... To reclaim our economic spaces, we must first reclaim our
political spaces from the corporations and other big money interests that
To reclaim political spaces, he proposes prohibiting political advertising
on television; placing strict limits on individual campaign contributions
and campaign spending; stripping corporations of their fictitious human
rights; and getting corporations entirely out of politics. He also would
eliminate the concentration of media ownership by prohibiting any single
individual or corporation from owning more than one major electronic or
print media outlet. He would make it easier for citizens to challenge the
charters of corporations that demonstrate disregard for the law or otherwise
fail to serve the public good.
Korten also would rigorously enforce anti-trust laws to break up concentrations
of corporate power and require corporations to give workers and/or communities
the first option to buy out the assets before a sale or merger could take
place. He also would reform tax policies to encourage corporations to be
more socially responsible.
Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun magazine, has proposed a Social
Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. His proposed amendment
would require every corporation in the United States with annual revenues
of $20 million or more to renew its charter every 20 years.
To get a charter renewal, the corporation would have to prove that it serves
the common good, gives its workers substantial power to shape their work
conditions and has a history of social responsibility to the communities
in which it operates, sells goods and/or advertises. If the corporation
does not receive a new charter, its assets would be distributed to another
community group that could run the corporation without decreasing employment
or socially useful services while increasing the corporation's ability to
act in a socially responsible manner.
"Don't quibble over the details!" Lerner wrote in the July/August
1997 issue of Tikkun. "... But get the concept -- corporations
are created by us, they receive all kinds of special benefits by virtue
of the state's conception of them as 'individuals,' and we have every right
to set the conditions under which they should operate, or whether they should
operate at all."
Lerner, who is promoting a movement based on a "politics of meaning,"
concedes that the Social Responsibility Amendment is unlikely to pass. But
it would provide "a focus for organizing and a clarity of the bottom
More immediately, he wrote, local activists could work on Social Responsibility
Initiatives to get cities, counties and states to require corporations to
file Ethical Impact Reports when they seek government contracts. The contracts
would then be awarded to the corporation which, while otherwise able to
competently fulfill the contract at a reasonable cost, has the best record
of social responsibility.
In many areas, such initiatives can be placed on ballots by petition. Lerner
said the passage of Social Responsibility Initiatives at the local level
would give credibility to the Social Responsibility Amendment.
The Alliance for Democracy, taking its inspiration from Ronnie Dugger's
"Call to Hope and Action," originally printed in August 1995 by
The Nation, is seeking to organize a populist grassroots movement
to end corporate rule. Among the national campaigns approved by delegates
at its second national convention this past November in Atchison, Kansas,
were campaigns exploring the Nature of Corporations and Corporate Governance;
to draft a model federal law defining, chartering and controlling interstate
corporations; to end corporate personhood with a constitutional amendment.
Those recommendations have been sent to the Alliance membership for ratification.
-- Jim Cullen For more information, including abridged versions
of Taking Care of Business, When Corporations Rule the World
and other links and essays on corporate governance, see the Ending Corporate
Governance web site (http://www.ratical.com/corporations/index.html).
Taking Care Of Business is available for $4 from Charter, Ink., at
the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy, P.O. Box 806, Cambridge,
MA 02140. For information on the Alliance for Democracy, write P.O. Box
683, Lincoln, MA 01773; phone 617-259-9395; email firstname.lastname@example.org. When
Corporations Rule the World is available from Kumarian Press, 630 Oakwood
Ave. Suite 119, West Hartford, CT 06110-1529, price $ 29.95 plus postage.
Contact Tikkun magazine, 26 Fell Street, San Francisco, CA 94102;
phone 415-575-1200 email email@example.com.
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